Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Social Welfare Benefits
376. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of visually impaired persons in receipt of the blind pension; and if consideration will be given to removing or amending the means test associated with the pension. [27569/21]
377. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way a visually impaired person can exist and contribute in the State as an artist; and the way a visually impaired person can develop, grow and live as a professional artist here. [27570/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 376 and 377 together.
The Blind Pension is one of a range of means-tested payments provided by the Department. It is paid to blind people and certain people with low vision, aged 18 and up to the age of 66 who are habitually resident in the State. At the end of April 2021 there were 1,069 persons in receipt of the Blind Pension.
The means assessment reflects the fact that there is an expectation that people with reasonable amounts of income or capital are in a position to use these resources to support themselves so that social welfare expenditure can be directed towards those who need it most.
In the means test, cash income that is assessed includes any income from employment or self-employment (and spouse/partner, if applicable), income from a social security pension from another country and maintenance payments. Recipients are supported to pursue employment or self-employment through earning disregards in the means test. A recipient can earn up to €120 per week from employment or self-employment without their payment being affected, while weekly earnings between €120 and €350 are assessed at 50%. A €20 increase in the earnings disregard was announced as part of Budget 2021 for both the Blind Pension and Disability Allowance which will take effect in June. This will see the first €140 of earnings per week from employment or self-employment being disregarded for the purposes of the means test. This increase will be applied automatically.
The means test assesses the income the person may reasonably be expected to receive during the coming 12 months. Where this is not ascertainable otherwise, the income for the previous 12 months can be taken as a guide, allowing for any factors which it is known will vary. Assessing a person’s income in this manner takes account of the fact that some people’s income is irregular, and they will earn more during some periods than others.
Capital assessed as part of the means test includes all monies held in financial institutions or otherwise, the market value of shares, as well as houses and premises owned by a claimant which may or may not be put to commercial use. The family home is never assessed as part of the means test, regardless of who is the legal owner. The first €20,000 of capital from any source is not assessed, the next €10,000 is assessed at €1 per thousand, the next €10,000 is assessed at €2 per thousand, while any amount above €40,000 is assessed at four euro per thousand.
People in receipt of the Blind Pension are also eligible for the Free Travel Scheme (free travel pass). They may also qualify for other secondary benefits such as the fuel allowance, living alone increase and the household benefits package. Where a person is no longer in receipt of the Blind Pension, for example resulting from an improvement in their overall financial circumstances, they may retain their free travel pass, once they remain registered with the National Council of the Blind of Ireland (NCBI).
A person who is in receipt of the Blind Pension may also qualify for the HSE means tested Blind Welfare Allowance.
Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, a supplement can be awarded to assist with ongoing or recurring costs that cannot be met from a person's own resources and are deemed to be necessary. In addition, officers can make a single exceptional needs payment to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. Decisions on ENPs and SWA supplements are made at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case.
The Department also provides the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance Scheme (BTWEA) which has been designed to support people, receiving certain social welfare payments, to become self-employed - this includes people in receipt of the Blind Pension and Disability Allowance. A person who avails of the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance Scheme retains a percentage of their social welfare payment and will receive support through their Intreo Case Officer, who will also refer them to their Local Development Company (LDC) who will assist them to explore the viability of their business idea. Once accepted onto the scheme the person retains100% of their original payment in year one and 75% year two.
Any proposals to change the means testing of payments, including for the Blind Pension, would have budgetary implications, and as such would need to be considered in the context of the annual budget process.
I trust that this clarifies the matter.
378. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of audits of visually impaired persons in receipt of the blind persons pension that were carried out in 2018 and 2019; and the reason these audits were necessary in circumstances in which all recipients of the pension have very limited financial means. [27571/21]
Blind pension is a residency based means tested payment paid to blind and visually impaired people between the age of 18 and 66 who are habitually resident in the State. There are currently 1,069 customers in receipt of blind pension.
It is the policy of my Department that claims across social welfare schemes and programmes are reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure the continuing eligibility of customers. In addition, social welfare recipients are obliged to notify my Department of any changes that may affect their entitlement, or rate of entitlement, including any changes in means for those on assistance payments.
In 2018, 194 reviews of blind pension claims were carried out, with 261 completed in 2019.
I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.