Thursday, 10 July 2014
Topical Issue Debate
Respite Care Grant Administration
Which Minister will take the third Topical Issue on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton? It is the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Sherlock. Is Deputy Lawlor happy with this?
As is well known, I am so far up the backbenches that even the pigeons do not fly this high. I have no chance of getting a call, and I do not think the signal works in here. I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for allowing me to raise the issue. It came to me from a constituent whose son, for whom she was the carer, had passed away. The carers are very important and the work they do is vital to ease the burden on our health services. Deputies on all sides appreciate the work they do. From this perspective, the respite care grant is payable to all those who receive carer's allowance, domiciliary care allowance or prescribed relative's allowance and is a very welcome payment. Approximately 57,000 people receive the respite care grants each year, a total of more than €800 million in 2014.
The payments were made recently, in early June. The cut-off date was 5 June, and there is a six week grace period during which one can receive the respite care grant. However, if a person passes away just before the six-week period, his or her carer receives nothing. It seems slightly unfair that a person who passes away on a Thursday would not receive the grant while a person who passes away on a Friday would. Could we consider a phased payment of the very helpful respite care grant? Why was the first Thursday in June chosen as the payment date when the legislation was enacted in 2006? Could we phase in a payment for those affected by the cut-off date? Notwithstanding the difficult economic times, given that the carers do significant work for society by looking after people in their homes could the grant be increased?
I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. As the Deputy said, we acknowledge the crucial role carers play in society. In 2014 the estimated Department expenditure on various supports for carers will be almost €886 million, comprising approximately €557 million on the carer's allowance, €21.5 million on carer's benefit, €122 million on the respite care grant and €105.1 million on domiciliary care allowance. I welcome the opportunity to highlight one of these key supports for carers provided by the Department, namely, the respite care grant.
The grant was introduced in June 1999, at which time the Department of Health also paid a respite care grant to people receiving domiciliary care allowance who were not in receipt of carer's allowance or carer's benefit from the Department of Social Protection. The domiciliary care allowance scheme transferred to the Department of Social Protection in 2009 as did responsibility for the related respite care grant. In 2005 the stand-alone respite care grant was introduced for all full-time carers. All respite care grants are now administered by the Department.
Although the grant is not subject to a means test, applicants are not eligible for the grant if they are working more than 15 hours per week outside the home, if they are getting a jobseeker's payment or if they are signing on for credits. There is no obligation on carers to use the respite care grant to access respite services. The value of the grant stands at €1,375 and this year it is estimated that the grant will be paid to some 87,000 persons at a cost of €122 million. A person caring for more than one person receives a grant for each person for whom they care. The grant is paid on the first Thursday in June of the relevant year to cover 52 weeks from this date. As it is an advance payment, the type of circumstance to which the Deputy referred is already covered.
The grant is not paid on a proportional basis and in order to qualify a person must, in addition to other criteria, be caring for at least six months. The mid-year June payment date allows carers to avail of respite over the summer months, facilitates the administration of the grant and ensures that the grant is targeted at those providing full-time care over a significant period of time. In a review of the grant undertaken by the Department in recent years, carers were asked about their preference regarding payment. The options of splitting the grant into two or three payments through the year were put to people and the vast majority of respondents, 84%, indicated that they would prefer no change to the current arrangements. This view was prevalent irrespective of age group, social welfare status, gender, location, number of care recipients or marital status.
In favouring the current annual payment, people expressed the view that a large lump sum would be more likely to be used for a specific purpose, such as a holiday, whereas smaller sums paid more frequently would be more likely to be absorbed in the day-to-day expenses of the household. In general, respondents stated that they were very pleased to receive the grant and that it was very helpful to them in easing the financial stress they had been experiencing. Those who used the grant for a holiday generally felt that the break would not have been possible without the grant. People who use the grant for other purposes, particularly to pay regular household bills, considered that the grant eased their financial worries generally.
I thank the Minister of State for the comprehensive reply. I had not realised the people in receipt of the payment had been asked how they would like to be paid. Had I received the information in a response to a parliamentary question I would not have needed to ask about it here. It is clear that people prefer to receive it as they do. The cut-off date of 5 June seems to confuse people. A better date might be 31 December and it could remain payable around 5 June. I am happy with the response and I understand where the Minister of State is coming from. The Minister did not say if the Government might be in a position to increase the payment to carers. We all recognise the work they do.
There is a recognition of the work carers do, which is part of the Irish psyche and the intergenerational solidarity that exists here. I do not know if the Government will increase the payment because we are not in a position, regarding the budget arithmetic, to ascertain whether there is scope to do so.