Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Carer's Benefit Eligibility
1217. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will examine the circumstances referenced in correspondence from a person (details supplied); if carer's benefit can be extended in this case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5904/20]
The Government recognises the crucial role that family carers play in Irish society and is fully committed to their support through a range of supports and services. The main income supports provided by my Department include Carer's Benefit, Carer's Allowance, Domiciliary Care Allowance, and the Carer's Support Grant. Spending on these payments in 2020 is expected to exceed €1.3 billion.
Carer's Benefit is a payment made to insured people who leave the workforce to care for someone in need of full-time care and attention. Carer’s Benefit is payable for a maximum period of 104 weeks for each person being cared for. It can be taken in one block or in separate periods as long as the combined total does not exceed 104 weeks.
Extending the number of weeks Carer’s Benefit is paid from its current 104 weeks would incur additional expenditure. It should be noted that not all those claiming Carer’s Benefit remain in payment for the full 104 weeks. My Department examined this matter in 2017 and found that the average duration on Carer’s Benefit was 74.2 weeks between 2010 and 2016. Therefore, the current 104 week payment duration represents a reasonable length of time to support a carer’s temporary absence from work.
Where care is provided beyond the period of entitlement to Carer’s Benefit, the means tested Carer’s Allowance is available for those who are in need of income support.
The means test for Carer’s Allowance is one of the most generous in the social protection system. Currently €332.50 of gross weekly income is disregarded in the calculation of means for a single person; the equivalent for someone who is married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting is €665 of combined gross weekly income. A Carer may engage in employment outside the home for up to 18.5 hours per week.
The conditions attached to payments of Carer’s Allowance are consistent with the overall conditions that apply to social assistance payments generally. This system of social assistance supports provides payments based on an income need with the means test playing the critical role in determining whether or not an income need arises as a consequence of a particular contingency – be that illness, disability, unemployment or caring. Carer's Allowance acts as an income support for those who cannot earn an income in the open labour market due to their caring responsibilities. The continued application of the means test not only ensures that the recipient has a verifiable income need but that resources are targeted to those with greatest need.
Based on the number of carers identified as part of Census 2016, it is estimated that a universal carer’s payment could cost up to an additional €1.2 billion per annum.
In assessing claims for means tested social welfare schemes, account is taken of the income and the value of capital, including shares, of the claimant and his or her spouse/partner.
The general rule for assessment of pension funds or annuities is that money invested in a pension fund is not assessable for means purposes if it is not accessible to the claimant. However, this must specifically be a pension fund, and not a general savings account being used by the claimant as savings for their retirement. For PRSA pensions, so long as the pension remains inaccessible to the claimant, it is not assessable as means.
The value of any cash otherwise available from a pension fund is assessed on the basis of the capital valuation of that fund and any regular pension payments received are treated as income for means purposes.
I can assure the Deputy that I am very aware of the key role carers play in society and I will continue to keep the range of supports available to carers under review. Any improvements or additions to these supports must be considered in a budgetary context and in the light of available financial resources.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.