Tuesday, 19 April 2011
Department of Social Protection
Social Welfare Code
Question 171: To ask the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the fact that Irish citizens returning home or relocating from the Six Counties are being denied vital access to social welfare support because of the interference by the Department of Social Protection with the habitual residence condition and the assurances she will give that this injustice will cease to continue. [8349/11]
Question 181: To ask the Minister for Social Protection if the fact that a person has not arranged employment before entering the State or does not have a history of employment in the State is considered a reason to determine that they do not satisfy the habitual residence condition and discriminates against people with disabilities who are unable to work. [8496/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 171 and 181 together.
The habitual residence condition was introduced in order to ensure that a person, who has had no attachment to the work force since arrival in Ireland and whose habitual residence is elsewhere, would not be entitled to payment under certain exchequer-funded schemes on arrival in Ireland. Decisions concerning habitual residence are subject to five factors which have been laid down by the European Court of Justice, and which are now incorporated into our domestic social welfare legislation. The five factors are:
(a) the length and continuity of residence in the State or in any other particular country;
(b) the length and purpose of any absence from the State;
(c) the nature and pattern of the person's employment;
(d) the person's main centre of interest; and
(e) the future intentions of the person concerned as they appear from all the circumstances.
There is currently no discrimination on grounds of nationality in social welfare legislation and to introduce such a provision would be contrary to the equality principles that Ireland has adopted in our own equality legislation, and that we are obliged to respect by virtue of other international conventions.
Irish nationals returning to live here on a permanent basis should experience no difficulty in demonstrating that they satisfy the requirements of the Habitual Residence Condition. As regards the situation of someone who has never worked here, all factors are taken into account; employment is one factor, but the decision depends on all the circumstances of the case, including whether the person had a legal right of residence here.
Question 172: To ask the Minister for Social Protection her plans to extend eligibility of families to avail of the family income supplement to those who reside in Border areas and work in the Six Counties. [8350/11]
The social security rights of people moving around the EU are governed by EU Regulations 883/2004 and 987/2009. These Regulations are designed to co-ordinate the social security systems of the various Member States so that people and their families are not disadvantaged when they move within the EU. A key principle of the co-ordination system is that persons moving to different Member States are subject to the same obligations and enjoy the same benefits as the nationals of those Member States. With few exceptions, it is the country of employment which receives the social security contributions and which is generally responsible for the payment of benefits.
The persons referred to by the Deputy are, for the purposes of the EU Regulations, regarded as frontier workers and special provisions apply to the payment of benefits to them and their families. With regard to payment of family benefits the Member State of employment is the competent State. Accordingly, in the circumstances referred to, the primary responsibility for payment of family benefits rests with the Northern authorities. A supplementary payment may also be made by this Department based on the residence of the family if the total package of family benefits payable here was higher than that due from the Northern authorities. However, Family Income Supplement would not be payable as part of this calculation as it is payable only to those working in the State. There are no plans to change the current situation.
Farmers aged between 18 and 66 years may apply for farm assist. The scheme is means-tested, taking into account both the farm and off-farm income of the farmer and his/her spouse or partner. In carrying out the means test for farm assist, the Department seeks to establish the likely income of the farmer in the coming 12 months. In doing this, the income in the previous 12 months is examined and allowance is made if there are factors which would affect anticipated income in the future, for example a drop in the price of milk, increased fodder or farming costs.
In order to qualify for a place on the rural social scheme, an individual must have a valid herd number and be in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment, one of which is farm assist. Participants are required to work 19.5 hours per week with flexibility allowed for on-farm activity. Individuals who are interested in participating on the scheme are advised to contact their local implementing body, who can advise them of the availability of vacancies on the scheme. A list of implementing bodies is available on www.welfare.ie .
Question 174: To ask the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding persons who were self-employed who now find themselves ineligible for any social benefits; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8362/11]
Self-employed people pay PRSI class S contributions which provide cover for long-term benefits such as State pension (contributory) and widows/widowers pension (contributory). Employees are covered by PRSI classes A, E, H and P, which provide cover for the above benefits as well as for short-term contingencies such as jobseeker's and illness benefits.
PRSI coverage is related to the risks associated with employment or self-employment, the annualised system of contributions for self-employed people and the practicalities of administering and controlling access to short-term payments for self-employed people. Self-employed people pay class S contributions at a rate of 4% per annum, a much lower rate compared to the 14.75% full Class A contributions paid by employees and their employers, and this is reflected in the narrower range of benefits they receive. A system of separate arrangements for employed and self-employed workers within a social insurance context is common in other European social protection systems.
There are no plans to extend cover for short-term benefits to self-employed contributors but I will keep the provision for the group under review. Any such measure would have significant financial implications and would have to be considered in the context of a much more significant rise in the rate of contribution payable.
Self-employed workers who do not qualify for a social insurance-based benefit may establish entitlement to social assistance-based payments such as jobseeker's allowance, subject to a means test. They can apply for the means-tested jobseeker's allowance if their business ceases or if they are on low income as a result of a downturn in demand for their services. A self-employed person's means are assessed in a flexible manner, taking account of the individual's particular situation and the overall economic circumstances. As it is more difficult to predict exactly what level of income a self-employed person might earn in the coming year, their income and activity levels in the last 12 months are generally used as a guide to estimate their likely future earnings. However it is not simply assumed that the previous year's earnings will be received in the coming year.
Jobseeker's Allowance is a means tested social assistance scheme operated by my Department. For means test purposes, account is taken of the income and assets of both the claimant and his or her spouse/partner including the earnings of the spouse. Where a spouse/partner has earnings from employment, earnings less PRSI contributions, pension contributions and trade union subscriptions are assessed as means. Mortgage payments are not deducted from earnings for means assessment purposes. There are no plans to alter these arrangements.