Written answers

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection

Social Welfare Benefits

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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134. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way her Department determines the number of hours of care that need to be provided for a carer on a full-time basis under the rules for getting the carer's support grant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11894/22]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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My Department provides a comprehensive package of carers’ income supports including Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance and the Carer’s Support Grant.  Combined spending on these payments to carers in 2022 is estimated to exceed €1.5 billion.  

The Carer’s Support Grant is an annual payment of €1,850 for each care recipient paid in a single lump sum with no requirement to satisfy a means test and it is available to all carers providing full-time care to an older person or a person with a disability, regardless of their means or social insurance contributions.  This grant is paid automatically to those in receipt of carer income supports.  This grant is not available for any other group nor is there an equivalent payment for carers in any other country in Europe.  Despite the extra financial demands due to the Covid-19 crisis, in Budget 2021 I increased the Carer’s Support Grant by €150 to its current rate of €1,850.  This is the highest rate since its introduction.  The estimated spend on this grant in 2022 is over €262 million.

A primary qualifying condition for the Carer’s Support Grant is that the applicant provides full-time care and attention to a person in need of such a level of care.  The person being cared for must be so incapacitated as to require full-time care and attention and be likely to require this full-time care and attention for at least 12 months.  The full-time care and attention requirement is contained in the respective legislative provisions of the Carer’s schemes.

The main legislative provisions relating to the Carer’s Support Grant are contained in Sections 224 to 226 of Part 5 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended, and associated regulations. Specifically, article 167 of Part 5 of the Social Welfare (Consolidated Claims, Payments and Control) Regulations 2007, S.I. No. 142 of 2007, provides for such matters as the circumstances in which a carer is to be regarded as continuing to provide full-time care and attention.  These regulations set a minimum hours condition for which a carer can be regarded as providing full-time care and attention in relation to that person’s eligibility for the Carer’s Support Grant.  They stipulate that a carer provides care for not less than 35 hours in a period of 7 consecutive days, and this care is provided on any 5 days, whether consecutive or not, within a period of 7 consecutive days.

While the carer's payments are premised on the provision of full-time care and attention by the carer they do provide good flexibility in terms of allowing carers to engage in training, education or work up to 18.5 hours per week.  During this time, adequate provision must be made for the care of the relevant person.  This was increased from 15 hours as part of Budget 2020 in response to requests from carer's organisations and carers themselves who found the 15 hours too restrictive.  The 18.5 hour limitation represents a reasonable balance between meeting the requirement for providing full-time care for the care recipient and the needs of the carer to engage in employment or education, thereby supporting a carer’s continued attachment to the workforce and broader social inclusion.

Any changes to the eligibility conditions for any of the statutory schemes operated by my Department, including the Carer’s Support Grant, would require legislative change and would need to be addressed in an overall policy and budgetary context.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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135. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason that some pensioners in the age bracket 60 to 69 years of age who paid a class D stamp are not permitted to access the household benefits package until they are 70 years old; if she is considering changing the rules for this cohort; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11861/22]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Household Benefits package (HHB) comprises the electricity or gas allowance, and the free television licence.  The package is generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who satisfy a means test.  The package is also available to some people under the age of 66, who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments.  My Department will spend approximately €273 million this year on HHB. 

A person aged between 66 and 69 who is not receiving a qualifying payment from the Department such as the State Pension (Contributory) may still apply for the HHB package, subject to satisfying a means test.  This includes a person who previously paid a class D stamp.

The means test involves calculating their appropriate weekly means limit.  This limit is based on the current maximum rate of State pension (contributory) including any increases for age, living alone, and adult/child dependents plus €120.  The weekly income limit is then compared to their weekly means as assessed in a means test.  If their weekly means are less than or equal to their income limit, then they satisfy the means test and qualify for the household benefits package, subject to also satisfying all other qualifying conditions.

Any decision to change the qualifying criteria for HHB to allow persons such as civil and public servants who paid a class D stamp to automatically qualify for the package when they turn 66 would have wider budgetary consequences and would have to be considered in the context of overall budget negotiations.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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136. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the position regarding treatment benefit in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11892/22]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Treatment Benefit Scheme provides dental, optical and aural services to insured workers, the self-employed, retired people and their dependent spouse/partner who have the required number of social insurance (PRSI) contributions.

In order to qualify a person needs to have at least 260 PRSI contributions paid at either Class A, E, H, P or S, since first starting work, and also have 39 contributions paid or credited in the relevant contribution year on which the claim is based.

The Department has undertaken a review of the social insurance record of the person concerned and can confirm that he is entitled to dental benefit under the Department's Treatment Benefit scheme, which is based on PRSI contributions. An approval notification will issue to him in the coming days.

I hope this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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137. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if consideration has been given to including foster carers as an eligible group as part of the recent recommendations by the Pension Commission regarding establishing a State pension for long-time carers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11995/22]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Programme for Government “Our Shared Future” includes a commitment to examine options for a pension solution for carers, most of whom - particularly the carers of incapacitated children – are women.  This Government acknowledges the important role that carers play and is fully committed to supporting them in that role.

Subject to the standard qualifying conditions for State Pension (Contributory) being satisfied, the State pension system currently gives significant recognition to those whose work history includes an extended period of time outside the paid workplace, often to raise families or in a full-time caring role, through the award of credits and/or the application of the Homemaker’s Scheme (under the Yearly Average method for payment calculation) and/or the application of HomeCaring Periods (under the Interim Total Contributions Approach (TCA)).  Details of these are – 

Credits – PRSI Credits are awarded to recipients of Carer’s Allowance (and Carer’s Benefit) where they have an underlying entitlement to credits and to workers who take unpaid Carer’s Leave from work.

Homemaker’s Scheme - The scheme is designed to help homemakers and carers qualify for State Pension (Contributory).  It allows periods caring for children or people with a caring need to be disregarded (from 1994) and can have the effect of increasing the Yearly Average.

HomeCaring Periods – This Scheme makes it easier for a home carer to qualify for a higher rate of State Pension (Contributory).  HomeCaring Periods may be awarded for each week not already covered by a paid or credited social insurance contribution.

Foster parents are entitled to the benefits of the Homemaker's Scheme or HomeCaring Periods, on the same basis as other homemakers, and will qualify if the carer is in receipt of Child Benefit.  If not in receipt of Child Benefit, they can still qualify for either scheme if the caring periods are confirmed by TUSLA (where caring is for a short period of time).

Since April 2019 all new State (Contributory) Pension applications are assessed under all possible rate calculation methods, including the Yearly Average and the Interim TCA, with the most beneficial rate paid to the pensioner.  The elements which make up each method are set out in legislation. 

If a person does not satisfy the conditionality to qualify for State Pension (Contributory), s/he may qualify for the means-tested State Pension (Non-Contributory), the maximum rate of which is over 95% that of the maximum rate of the State Pension (Contributory).  Alternatively, if his/her spouse is a State pensioner with significant household means, his/her most beneficial payment may be an Increase for a Qualified Adult, based on his/her personal means, and amounting to up to 90% of a full contributory pension. 

The Pensions Commission was established in November 2020 to examine the sustainability of the State Pension system and the Social Insurance Fund, in fulfilment of a Programme for Government commitment.  It was an independent body comprised of knowledgeable and experienced academics, pension experts, members of civil society and representatives of workers and employers.  The Commission’s Report has unambiguously established that the current State Pension system is not sustainable into the future and that changes are needed, and has set out a wide range of recommendations in this regard - including the full transition to a TCA model, phasing out of the Yearly Average approach and measures to enhance pension provision for long-term carers (over 20 years). 

In the interests both of older people and of future generations of older people, the Government intends to consider the comprehensive, far reaching recommendations in the Commission’s Report very carefully and holistically.  In this regard I intend to bring a recommended response and implementation plan to Government for its consideration by the end of March 2022.  

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.


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