Minister Burton publishes Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013


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The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, today (23rd October 2013) published the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013 to give effect to a number of social welfare measures announced in Budget 2014. The Bill is available to view on www.oireachtas.ie.  The main provisions contained in the Bill are:

Change in liability for PRSI (Section 3)

From 1 January 2014, the exemption from PRSI applying to employed contributors and occupational pensioners under 66 years, whose only additional income is unearned income, will be abolished. This means that unearned income such as rental income, investment income, dividends and interest on deposits and savings will be liable to PRSI at 4% for the above people provided the person is a ‘chargeable person' in accordance with the Revenue definition. This will apply to people with unearned income in excess of €3,174. It will not apply to PAYE taxpayers with no other income, or additional income less than €3,174. In addition, people who have reached State pension age of 66 are not liable to pay PRSI, and therefore will not be affected.

"This measure, in addition to the PRSI changes that I implemented last year, will ensure the stability of the Social Insurance Fund so that it can continue to pay the pensions and benefits required by those who need them. It is important to note that this measure will not affect those who have already reached pension age and who are therefore exempt from PRSI," Minister Burton said.

Illness Benefit and Injury Benefit (Sections 4 and 7)

The number of days that a person must wait before being entitled to Illness Benefit or Injury Benefit from the Department of Social Protection is being increased from 3 to 6 days with effect from January 6.

Maternity Benefit and Adoptive Benefit (Sections 5 and 6)

Explaining the change to Maternity and Adoptive Benefit, Minister Burton said: "While I have had to make savings in these schemes, I have preserved the 26-week duration for Maternity Benefit and 24-week duration for Adoptive Benefit, as I believe that this time is vitally important for families and their children.

"Ireland provides generous maternity leave entitlements in comparison with our European counterparts and substantially in excess of the 14 weeks required under EU legislation. This is reflected by one of the highest birth rates in Europe and high participation of women in the labour force."

The Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013 will standardise the minimum and maximum rates of Maternity Benefit and Adoptive Benefit from January 6 at €230 per week for new applicants. People currently getting Maternity or Adoptive Benefit or those claiming it before the end of the year will not be affected by this change.

Bereavement Grant (Section 8)

In relation to the Bereavement Grant of €850, this will no longer be paid for deaths occurring on or after 1 January 2014. There are, however, a number of additional supports available for people who have experienced a bereavement, such as:

  • The Widowed or Surviving Civil Partner Grant - a once-off payment of €6,000 where there is a dependent child.
  • Continued payment after death - where the deceased person's payment continues for 6 weeks to their spouse or partner who is also getting a weekly welfare payment. This payment can be worth up to €1,380 depending on the payment that the deceased person had been receiving.
  • If a person dies because of an accident at work or occupational disease, a Special Funeral Grant of €850 is paid.
  • For those with particular difficulties, who are unable to afford to pay for the funeral, there is the possibility of an Exceptional Needs Payment from the Department of Social Protection.  This is a means-tested scheme.  The average payment made is in the region of €2,000. In 2012, the Department spent €5.2 million on such payments.

 

Jobseeker's Allowance and Supplementary Welfare Allowance (Sections 9 and 10)

The Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013 introduces measures through which:

  • People without children aged 18-24 years in receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance or Supplementary Welfare Allowance will receive €100 per week unless they are an existing claimant on a higher rate, in which case their rate will not change.  
  • People without children aged 25 years in receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance or Supplementary Welfare Allowance will receive €144 a week unless they are an existing claimant on a higher rate in which case their rate will not change. This weekly €144 rate will increase to €188 for people getting Jobseeker's Allowance and to €186 for people who are getting Supplementary Welfare Allowance when they reach 26 years of age.
  • All jobseekers aged 18-25 years who participate in the Back to Education Allowance scheme will receive €160 per week.  

These changes will apply from January 9 in respect of Supplementary Welfare Allowance and from January 15 in respect of Jobseeker's Allowance. 

Minister Burton said: "Signing on for Jobseeker's Allowance on a person's 18th birthday is not the start to adult life that any parent would want for their child. I'm making the changes relating to Jobseeker's Allowance for young people to place a greater emphasis on work, training and education supports rather than income supports. They will ensure that young people are better off in education, employment or training than claiming. In this context, the Department will spend €1.08 billion next year on work, training and education places and related supports for jobseekers generally – an increase of almost €85 million on the projected spend this year.  People under 26 who participate in a Back to Education course will have their Jobseeker's Allowance increased to €160 per week. That means that people aged 22, 23 and 24 years will be better off by €60 per week if they engage in training and education, in addition to enhancing their career and job prospects from improving skills and education levels.
"Given the trend in the figures over the last few months, I am fully confident that the Live Register at the end of October will fall below 400,000 for the first time since May 2009. The numbers in work rose by 33,800 in the year to the second quarter of 2013. Although there is still much progress to be made, we are helping jobseekers to find a pathway back to work."

Mortgage Interest Supplement (Section 11)

The Mortgage Interest Supplement (MIS) scheme will be discontinued for new entrants. For existing recipients, the scheme will be wound down over a four-year period from January 2014. The savings arising from this measure in 2014 will be €12 million.

In relation to this measure, the Minister said: "The original purpose of MIS was to provide short-term income support to eligible people who were unable to meet their mortgage interest repayments on their home. However, approximately 45% of customers currently in receipt of the supplement have been in receipt of the payment for 3 years or more.

"The payment of MIS does little to help recipients address their mortgage problem and provides little incentive for the lender to provide sustainable longer-term solutions. The most appropriate way in which customers experiencing mortgage difficulties can be supported is through engagement with their lender under the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP) which explores the various options available to the person and seeks to provide sustainable solutions."

Since June 2012, new applicants for MIS must engage with an alternative repayment plan with their lenders prior to becoming eligible for MIS. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that those who are in mortgage difficulties engage with their lender under MARP and avail of its implicit forbearance arrangements. This process acknowledges that it is in the interest of both the lender and the borrower to address financial difficulties as speedily and effectively as circumstances allow. The numbers on MIS has continued to reduce since the introduction of this condition which indicates that the MARP process has succeeded in addressing many customers' short term financial difficulties.

Invalidity Pension (Section 12)

The rate of Invalidity Pension for people under age 65 is €193.50 while the rate for people aged over 65 is €230.30 - a reflection of the fact that "pension age" was previously 65 years.  The State Pension age will be 66 years of age from 1 January 2014.  To align the structure, the Invalidity Pension over-65 rate of €230.30 will be discontinued and from January, Invalidity Pension recipients who turn 65 will continue to receive €193.50.

On turning 66 years, Invalidity Pensioners will then get the full State Pension (Contributory) of €230.30 per week.

Invalidity Pensioners who are aged 65 before 2 January 2014 and are already on the weekly rate of €230.30 will not be affected by this measure, so there will be no reduction for anybody currently age 65 in receipt of Invalidity Pension.

A similar standardisation arrangement will apply to the Increase for a Qualified Adult which is paid in respect of the spouse or partner of Invalidity Pensioners. The weekly rate of payment will be €138.10 for qualified adults who reach age 66 on or after 2 January 2014.

Compensation Awards (Section 13)

This section provides for the introduction of new arrangements governing the recovery of certain social welfare benefits where a compensator (typically Insurance Companies) is also paying compensation in respect of the same injury, accident or disease that gave rise to the claim for a social welfare payment.  Currently, compensators are entitled to reduce the level of some compensation awards to take account of the value of social welfare payments.  These arrangements are being extended to ensure that the funds involved will, in future, have to be refunded to the Department of Social Protection.   The measure comprehensively addresses the risk of ‘double compensation' arising in such cases and it is in line with recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission.

 

New arrangements for older jobseekers

The Minister is also announcing new provisions for older people who have left work before reaching the State pension age of 66 and who wish to claim a Jobseeker's payment.  Ordinarily, people in receipt of a Jobseeker's payment must engage with the Department's activation process and can face penalty rates if they refuse to engage with Department offers of training or education. These criteria will now be eased for people aged 62 and over in light of their contribution to society. They will still be able to avail voluntarily of an array of supports which are available from the Department if they wish to return to work, training or education. However, penalty rates will not be applied to this cohort should they decide they do not wish to engage with the activation process.

The Minister said: "Following an examination of existing legislation which compels jobseekers to engage with activation processes, I have instructed Departmental staff that, from January 2014, such compulsory conditions will no longer be applied to older people who seek the support of the Jobseekers schemes in advance of pension age. In addition, arrangements will be made so that these older people will have to register with their local office only once a year and will have their Jobseeker payments paid directly into their bank accounts," said the Minister.

"This instruction means that people on the Jobseeker's schemes aged 62 years or over will not be subjected to the activation-related sanctions which are provided for in legislation, such as payment rate reductions and temporary withdrawal of benefit.  However, where a person aged over 62 needs support to re-skill or re-train they may voluntarily seek to avail of these supports – in this way we will continue to support longer working while acknowledging the contribution of those moving towards retirement."

ENDS

Last modified:23/10/2013
 

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