Thursday, 29 March 2018
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Farm Assist Scheme
The farm assist scheme supplements mostly small farms on bad agricultural land, mainly in the west of Ireland. Recipients retain the advantages of the jobseeker’s allowance scheme such as the retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. The 2018 Revised Estimates for my Department provide for expenditure of approximately €74.1 million on the farm assist scheme.
Budget 2017 fully reversed the previous cuts to the Farm Assist means test. The changes included that 70% of farm income is now assessed as means, down from 100% being assessed as means (which is equivalent to a 30% income disregard) and an additional annual means disregard of €254 for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and subsequent children.
The farm assist means test is flexible so as to allow for significant income fluctuations from one year to the next. It may also be noted that farm assist customers continue to receive more beneficial treatment than other self-employed persons as payments received under the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS), Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) or Special Area of Conservation (SAC) schemes are assessed separately from other farm income. With regard to this income the first €2,540 is disregarded, and then 50% of the balance and related expenses are disregarded - with the balance being assessed as means.
It is estimated that the cost of changing the farm assist means testing rules in order that irrespective of the source of income the first €3,000 would be disregarded and the balance would be means tested at 50% is approximately €15 million for a full year. This estimate is based on the existing number of recipients and current rates.
However, it is envisaged that there would be an inflow of new farm assist claims if these measures were introduced. The Department cannot quantify the numbers involved and as such cannot calculate the associated additional costs. Therefore, the estimated cost of €15 million should be regarded as a minimum estimate.
Budget 2018 provided for a €5 per week increase in rate of payment for farm assist and the maximum rate increased from €193 to €198 per week from 26 March 2018.
Any changes to means assessment would have to be considered in a budgetary context.