Seanad debates

Thursday, 8 February 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Social Welfare Eligibility

9:30 am

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. It is not isolated. Every Oireachtas Member has encountered a difficult case in his or her constituency regarding this matter. The issue raised by the Senator affects people all over Ireland. It is important to put that on the record so people listening will understand it is not just a local issue.

Primary weekly social welfare payments from the Department of Social Protection are intended to enable recipients to meet basic day-to-day income needs. In addition to providing those primary payments, the Department provides a range of other payments, both cash and non-cash, weekly, monthly or less frequently. These are considered secondary in nature. The living alone allowance is a secondary payment. It is not a scheme or a stand-alone payment in itself but rather a supplement to a primary social welfare protection payment of €22 per week made to people aged over 66 who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments and living alone. For those aged over 66, these primary payments include the contributory State pension, the non-contributory State pension, the widow’s, widower’s and surviving civil partner’s contributory pension, the widow’s and widower’s pension under the occupational injuries benefit scheme, incapacity supplement under the occupational injuries benefit scheme, and the deserted wife's benefit payment. Accordingly, there are no circumstances in which the living alone allowance can be paid to people who are not in receipt of a primary qualifying payment. That is the issue the Senator is referring to. She is correct, and I am confirming the actual position straight up.

Any decision to allow those who are not in receipt of a qualifying payment to receive a living alone allowance and thereby establish it as a new stand-alone scheme would have budgetary and administrative consequences and would have to be considered solely in the context of budget negotiations. PRSI contributions are paid on discounted class B and class D rates, as paid by civil and public servants recruited prior to April 1995 and are not reckonable for the contributory State pension. Recipients of occupational pensions from the civil and public services may apply for a means test for the State non-contributory pension. If a person is deemed eligible for this they may be eligible to receive the living alone allowance.

Civil and public servants recruited after 1995 see their occupational pension integrated with the State pension and pay PRSI at the class A rate. These contributions are reckonable for State pensions purposes and if other conditions are met, a person may not be eligible for an increase in the living alone allowance when in receipt of the State pension. The issue the Senator mentioned related to a teacher who would have been a public servant some time ago and was not on the class A PRSI; their pension is based on their class B or class D PRSI contribution rates. The pension they would receive from the Civil Service or the Department of Education, as the case may be, is not considered a primary social welfare payment. Therefore they are not eligible for the supplementary payment because they are not in receipt of the primary payment in the first place. That is the situation and it would require a policy change. That can only be considered in the context of a budget, which will be later on this year.


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