Thursday, 30 April 2009
Social Welfare Payments.
Question 7: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on making social welfare payments available on different days in post offices in order to avoid the long queues currently being experienced in some areas and to ensure better security; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17091/09]
The current range of payment options offered by the Department to customers includes payment at a local post office, or to a bank or building society account, or certain credit unions that have been authorised by the banking and credit union regulators.
Other than jobseekers, customers can opt for a payment method having regard to their own personal circumstances. The Department administers a variety of schemes which have a weekly and monthly payment cycle. For operational reasons and to facilitate the distribution of payments through the post office network, each scheme is assigned a day of the week for payment. These measures ensure that payments to be distributed through post offices are evenly spread across the week. A person can collect their payment on the due date or within a number of days thereafter.
Of the 1.4 million customers paid each week, over 725,000 - some 51% of them - are paid at a post office on various days throughout the week. A further 81,000 collect their early child care supplement on the third Monday of each month, and 252,000 customers collect their child benefit payment on the first Tuesday of each month. When new schemes are introduced, such as early child care supplement or customers move from cheque to electronic payments, care is taken to ensure that the day assigned does not unduly impact on existing arrangements at post offices.
As the numbers claiming social welfare increase significantly, the Department must ensure that strict controls are in place in order to prevent fraud and abuse. Staff in post offices are required to satisfy themselves that they are making payment to the person entitled to receive that payment. This has generally been done through signature verification. The introduction of photo identification for those of working age, such as jobseekers and lone parents, is designed to strengthen security measures in order to prevent abuse of the social welfare system. Post office staff can ask for photo identification and if there are any difficulties with the identification being produced they can alert investigators in the Department.
The Department is aware that a small number of post offices are experiencing long queues at certain times of the day. This is under review by An Post which is responsible for the post office network and the operation of individual post offices, including security. I am satisfied with the measures being taken in post offices to ensure that the correct payment is being made to the right person, and that customers are not unduly inconvenienced while collecting payments in post offices.
I tabled this question because I have been contacted by a number of people about queues they have experienced in post offices. I appreciate that part of this matter is the responsibility of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan. The biggest concern is about unemployment payments on the first day they are delivered. I accept that people can collect them on different days but the problem is on the first day because they want to receive it. I wonder if that system could be divided in any way. Could the matter at least be examined to see if pressure can be eased? The Minister should discuss with An Post the facilities it is making available to people. In some instances there are adequate staff, but An Post only supplies one computer.
I have also raised this issue because recently I was in a very small village and I was shocked when I heard how much was delivered to the post office for social welfare payments.
I will not but I could not believe how much was going in compared to the population. That postmaster said there is a real risk for them. They are in a rural area and there is no full-time Garda station, yet this massive amount of money is being deposited there. If the payments could be ordered twice a week it would make it somewhat safer for small post offices.
It is not the Minister's fault and it is up to individuals to opt for the method of payment. It would be a help, however, if more people changed their options.
Undoubtedly, the use of electronic payments is the way to go because it is very secure for everybody. From the end of September 2009 no books will be printed, so that will alleviate the problem for some. Looking at what customers are paid on different days, however, even if one was to move some jobseekers to a different day they would then impact on pensioners or some other group.
Friday seems to be the worst day, with 39%, because most pensioners get their money that day. The figures are 20% on Thursday and 21% on Wednesday. Tuesday is a light day with 6%, and it is 14% on Monday.
I appreciate the points the Deputy is making, particularly about security because of the large amounts of money involved. On the other hand, however, as a measure to control fraud we had to ensure that people physically collect the money for reasons of which we are all aware. Hopefully, with other payments being made by electronic transfer it should relieve some of the pressure.