Tuesday, 17 November 2015
Social Welfare Code Review
67. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection for an update on the issue of determination orders which were not catered for in the legislation on jobseeker's transition payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40069/15]
The purpose of this question is to ascertain the position on people who up to now have been open to being pursued by the Department of Social Protection to meet their responsibilities when their partners are lone parents in receipt of lone parent's allowance.
My Department has indicated its intention to review the current maintenance and liable relative procedures since the introduction of the one-parent family payment reforms. While this work is being actively pursued, it is a highly complex issue that involves undertaking a detailed review and any change will require legislation. The issue of maintenance payments, first and foremost, is a private matter between the people concerned and, if they cannot solve the problem, it is a matter for the courts through family law provisions. The provisions on liability to maintain family contained in social welfare legislation are separate from family law legislation. In each case in which a one-parent family payment is awarded the Department seeks to trace the other parent, that is, the liable relative, to ascertain whether he or she is in a financial position to contribute towards the cost of the payment. This does not alter an individual’s obligation to pay maintenance pursuant to a court order. The Department’s legislative basis to issue maintenance assessments to a liable relative does not currently extend to the jobseeker’s transitional payment. As I noted, this matter is under review.
Once the one-parent family payment recipient’s youngest child reaches the age of seven years and the recipient's entitlement to the one-parent family payment ceases, the liability assessed under the liable relative provisions no longer applies. The Department advises the liable relative accordingly. It is important to note that this does not affect any other maintenance arrangement that may be in place between the parents.
While I understand the position on maintenance, the difficulty is that, on foot of the recent change, a person must have a child under the age of seven years to qualify for lone parent's allowance. Until recently, however, that age was 14 years, which meant that in the case of a single parent with a child under the age of 14 years and who was in receipt of the single parent allowance, the State could pursue the non-custodial parent to make a contribution to the State towards the cost of providing the allowance. As a result of the change, people can only receive lone parent's allowance while they have a child aged up to seven years. This means that lone parents with children over seven years but under 14 have been transferred to the jobseeker's transition payment and that the State does not have the same right to pursue the non-custodial parent when the lone parent has been transferred from receiving lone parent's allowance to the jobseeker's transition payment. I am asking the Tánaiste why such people should be let off the hook? Why not put in place a provision whereby the people in question, insofar as they can be identified, can be pursued in the same way they have been pursuable up to now?
In 2014 the Department issued 2,586 determination orders for maintenance.
As a result of the transfer of claimants from the one-parent family payment to the jobseeker's transitional payment in July 2015, 134 or 5% of liable relatives issued with determination orders in 2014 no longer have a liability under the scheme.
The matter of maintenance between a couple who are separating is primarily a matter for the courts. Obviously, parents who have means should contribute to the rearing of their children and should be, as far as possible, involved in their children's upbringing, save in circumstances where there may be issues of domestic violence and so on. As I said, we are reviewing the legislation. As a lawyer, Deputy O'Dea will be aware that this is a matter that falls to be addressed in the context of any arrangements put in place between the two parties. It is important that each of the parents contributes to the upbringing and maintenance of their children.
I understand what the Minister is saying. Maintenance has always been a matter primarily for the parents and the courts. Up to now an absent parent of a child aged up to 14 years could be pursued by the State to contribute to the welfare the State is paying to the parent who is living with the child. Currently, an absent parent can only be pursued until the child has reached aged seven. I do not see any good reason this provision cannot be extended to such time as the single parent is in no longer in receipt of jobseeker's transition payments, which would be the same as applied previously.
As I said, we are currently engaged in an indepth review of the legislation. Any changes deemed necessary will require legislation, which will be brought before the House in due course. We want to arrive at a situation whereby lone parents transitioning to jobseeker's payments, whose children are between seven and 14 years and settled in school, can be offered educational and developmental opportunities and, after their children have reached 14 years, are encouraged into paid employment. Obviously, during the early stage of the child's life, the issue of determination orders is under current legislation in respect of lone parents. We are actively reviewing potential changes to the legislation, which will brought before the Dáil in due course.