Thursday, 2 November 2006
Social Welfare Benefits.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to raise this matter. This is a particularly tragic story and I thought the Minister for Social and Family Affairs would have been here in person to address it, although that is no reflection on the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen.
This is the story of a man and his wife who were self-sufficient. He worked in this country for a number of years, for the ESB and for several other employers. He then emigrated to Canada, where he also worked for a number of years. Then, tragically, he suffered a stroke and had to return home. All his family's aspirations had to go by the board. He did not even have a home when he returned from Canada. His case was first brought to my attention in May or June of last year and I tabled a question to ascertain why he was not in receipt of an invalidity pension, to which he was entitled. His wife had been told that he was not entitled to the payment because he did not meet the usual requirements. However, from my knowledge of the social welfare law, I believed he was entitled to a pension and, indeed, he eventually received the payment when a decision was made to award him the invalidity pension.
Subsequently, it transpired that he may have had an entitlement to an invalidity pension back-dated to 2001. He was living in this country at that time, was eligible and should have qualified. I tabled a parliamentary question to that effect, only to be informed that the first decision made in his case was made in error. The Ceann Comhairle, being a medical practitioner, would have questions to ask in the face of such a decision. I also have questions to ask because I believe it is an appalling decision. Apart from that, however, it is also a wrong decision, based on social welfare law.
In the original decision, consideration was given to the awarding of 14 contributions which related to the 2001 tax year and the rounding up and down of figures for that short tax year. Somebody determined that this should not be calculable from the point of view of qualification. That decision is wrong in law and there is no basis for it. Once contributions have been awarded, they are calculable. An appalling injustice has been done to this unfortunate man and his family as a result of a callous decision which the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, would not allow had they been aware of it. If I were in the Minister's position, I would not allow it. Indeed, I was in that situation previously, as one invariably is when one holds that portfolio.
I know what the answer will be to my question today. The Minister of State does not even have to read out the response, I could quote it for him. A severe injustice has been done to the individual concerned. It behoves the Minister to ask for the file and to order the upholding of the original decision.
This is the least to which this unfortunate man is entitled and I ask the Minister of State to do so.
I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this issue. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan.
The parliamentary question to which the Deputy refers concerns a person who is currently in receipt of an invalidity pension. Prior to being awarded an invalidity pension, he was in receipt of disability allowance with effect from 19 September 2001. The person concerned applied for an invalidity pension on 13 June 2006 and was awarded the pension from 15 June 2006.
Following a review of his entitlement, it was decided that the person concerned was not entitled to invalidity pension as he did not have a total of 48 PRSI contributions paid or credited in the 2005 tax and PRSI contribution year, which was the last tax year before his claim was made. The case has now been further reviewed and I can confirm that the person concerned does not have an entitlement to invalidity pension.
The error made when his claim for invalidity pension was originally decided arose from the award of PRSI credits at that time in respect of the period during which he was in receipt of disability allowance. In order to qualify for such credits, the person concerned must have had at least 26 reckonable PRSI contributions paid in the two years prior to the award of disability allowance. He has only 13 paid contributions in that period.
The Deputy will recall that the tax and calendar years were aligned from January 2002. Prior to that, the tax and PRSI contribution year ran from 6 April to the following 5 April. The alignment of the tax and calendar years meant that the last tax and PRSI contribution period prior to 2002 was shorter than usual, running from April to December 2001.
Regulations were made at that time to provide for award of special contributions in that short tax year 2001, to take account of the inability of PRSI contributors to pay the normal 52 contributions in that short tax and PRSI contribution year. Such special contributions are reckonable only for the particular purposes specified in the regulations.
They are not reckonable for the purpose of the award of PRSI credits.
The original decision to award invalidity pension in the case raised by the Deputy was dependent on the award of such credits.