Tuesday, 9 June 2020
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
673. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to extend the enhanced illness benefit for more than two weeks to those that cannot return to work due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that they have a serious underlying condition that precludes them returning to work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10243/20]
Under the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (No. 1), and subsequent regulations, the Government, having regard to the manifest and grave risk to human life and public health posed by the spread of Covid-19, made exceptional provision in the public interest and to mitigate the effect of the spread of the disease to amend and extend the Social Welfare Acts to provide for entitlement to illness benefit for persons who have been diagnosed with, or are a probable source of infection with Covid-19.
The rate of payment of the enhanced Illness Benefit payment in respect of COVID-19 is higher than the normal maximum personal rate for a limited period. The measures were designed to ensure that where a registered medical practitioner or a HSE medical officer diagnoses a person with COVID-19 or identifies him or her as a probable source of infection of COVID-19, that the person can comply with medical advice to isolate, while having their income protected. This is essential to limit and slow down the spread of the virus, to keep the number of people affected to a minimum, and to reduce a peak of cases which would cause extreme pressure on the health system.
Medical practitioners are only authorised to submit medical certificates in respect of COVID-19 in respect of two very limited circumstances under the legislation. These are for a person:
- who is diagnosed with COVID-19, or
- who is a probable source of infection of COVID-19 and is self-isolating – such persons will have either been certified by their Doctor or will have received personal HSE notification (that is, where they are contact-traced or otherwise personally identified and advised by the HSE as being a probable source of infection).
The enhanced rate of Illness Benefit is payable for 2 weeks where a person is isolating as a probable source of infection of COVID-19 and up to 10 weeks where a person has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Any changes to the current temporary scheme would need to be considered in the overall budgetary context.
Where an employee is unable to return to the workplace because they are still ill with Covid-19 they may apply for standard illness benefit which is paid at a maximum weekly personal rate of €203. Increases may also be paid for qualifying adults and children. Illness benefit claims require medical certification of illness that a person is incapable of work.
Where a person is not eligible for the enhanced rate, standard Illness Benefit payment may be payable subject to normal certification and eligibility criteria to a person with a serious health condition, where a medical practitioner certifies that a person is incapable of work due to the medical condition. This may be paid for an extended period, depending on the person’s continued eligibility.
Employees who cocoon without a medical certificate may approach their employer in relation to taking annual or other paid leave - this is at the discretion of the employer. Many employers can, and do, agree leave arrangements with staff who need to take short periods of time off. These include arrangements to enable employees to work remotely from home, to alter shift patterns, to work-up time taken, or to bring forward annual leave entitlements from future work periods. The government has encouraged employers to support workers with leave requests at this difficult time and those with underlying health conditions should be facilitated where possible.
Where it is not possible to make appropriate compassionate leave arrangements, employees can call on some statutory entitlements including supplementary welfare allowance.
I trust that this clarifies the position.