Header Item Written Answers Nos. 58-77
 Header Item National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan
 Header Item State Pension (Non-Contributory)
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals Delays
 Header Item Child Maintenance Payments
 Header Item JobPath Programme
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility
 Header Item Live Register Data
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes Review
 Header Item Defined Benefit Pension Schemes
 Header Item State Pensions Reform
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes Supervisors
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals Delays

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 4
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 95 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 58-77

National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan

 58. Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Information on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Zoom on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the role her Department will play in the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-21; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50314/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The National Disability Inclusion Strategy (NDIS) 2017 to 2021 was launched in July, 2017. It sets out to secure an Irish society in which people with disabilities enjoy equal rights and opportunities to participate in social and cultural life, can take up work if they want to, and have choice and control over how they live their lives.

The Strategy sets out 114 actions under a range of cross-cutting themes and objectives. These include ensuring that public services are accessible to all citizens; enabling people with disabilities to have an opportunity to work and have a career; providing people who acquire a disability with the supports that they need to remain in or return to work if they so choose, and; developing approaches to ensure people with disabilities are financially better-off in work. A number of these actions are also reflected in the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for people with disabilities and the Make Work Pay report, both of which seek to improve employment participation and outcomes for people with disabilities.

The NDIS adopts a cross-governmental approach in which Government departments and agencies collaborate with organisations in the disability sector to ensure that the lives of people with disabilities are improved in both a practical and real sense. The role of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is defined both in terms of delivering a number of specific, identified actions in the strategy, as well as being part of the wider cross-governmental implementation of the strategy. The Department is assigned direct responsibility for six actions, mainly reflecting its role in employment and income supports for persons with a disability as well as a number of other actions in common with other departments. The Department also participates in the National Disability Inclusion Strategy Steering Group (NDISSG) which monitors the implementation of the strategy and which includes the National Disability Authority, the Disability Stakeholders Group and key Government departments.

I hope this clarifies the issue for the Deputy.

State Pension (Non-Contributory)

 59. Deputy Joan Collins Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty when she will bring a complete report to Cabinet on the pension anomaly introduced in 2012. [50316/17]

 64. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty when the report on the impact to the 2012 changes to the contributory pension will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50502/17]

 71. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty when the report on the effect of 2012 changes to the calculation of pensions on women in particular will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50587/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I propose to take Questions Nos. 59, 64 and 71 together.

  Spending on State pensions has increased rapidly in recent decades. This year, the cost is €7.3 billion. This is estimated to increase by €1 billion every five years due to the increased number of pensioners. These projections mean that there are considerable sustainability and affordability challenges in the years ahead and we must continue to address them.

  There are two State pensions. Firstly, the State pension non-contributory is a means-tested pension funded from taxation. Secondly, the State pension contributory, which is not means-tested, is paid from the Social Insurance Fund.

   Accordingly, it is important to ensure that those qualifying for that pension have made a sustained contribution to the Social Insurance Fund over their working lives.

  In 2012 rate bands were introduced which more closely reflect the social insurance contributions history of a person than those in place prior to then. It must be noted that people with only 20 years of contributions over nearly 50 years will still get an 85% contributory pension, or a non-contributory pension of up to 95% that of the maximum contributory rate, subject to their means.

  Reverting to the pre-2012 bands would move additional resources to people who already have means, and it is estimated that it would result in an annual cost of well over €70 million in 2018, and this annual cost would increase by an estimated €10 to €12 million extra each following year.

  It is my intention to introduce a Total Contributions Approach to the calculation of the State Pension (Contributory) from 2020 onwards and I’ll be bringing forward proposals in this regard in the near future.

  In the meantime, I have asked my officials to carefully examine approaches that may help to address the issue in relation to the averaging approach as it affects people with a short work period early in their career followed by a long break. We need to ensure that any proposed approach does not cause further anomalies or disadvantages to arise. We also need to determine, as best we can, the cost of any such approach and how that can be financed in the future. When they report to me, I will consider the options available, and bring the matter to cabinet committee and thereafter to Government for approval.

  I want to ensure that any approach taken is fair and sustainable in the long term.

I hope that this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.   

Social Welfare Appeals Delays

 60. Deputy Mary Butler Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her plans to address the significant time delays for the appeals process in relation to social protection payments which can take six months to be completed. [50504/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years. As a result, appeal processing times improved between 2011 and 2016 from 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing in 2011 to 24.1 weeks in 2016 and from 25.1 weeks for a summary decision in 2011 to 17.6 weeks in 2016. I understand from the Chief Appeals Officer that there has been a slight increase in processing times in 2017 with oral hearings taking, on average, 26 weeks and summary decisions taking 20 weeks to finalise. A number of factors have contributed to the increase including the retirement of six experienced Appeals Officers during the first half of 2017. However, she is hopeful that processing times will improve as a number of newly appointed Officers gain experience in their roles.   Specific actions taken to reduce processing times include: liaising with HR to ensure that vacancies are filled quickly; ensuring that training is given to new Appeals Officers as early as possible; working with the Department to reduce time in submitting appeal files; and a restructuring of the mechanism for recording appeal decisions.

  It is open to an appellant to claim supplementary welfare allowance pending the outcome of their appeal if their means are insufficient to meet their needs.

  The Chief Appeals Officer assures me that processing times are a priority. However, the drive for efficiency must be balanced with the competing demand to ensure that decisions are consistent and of high quality.

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Appeal Processing Times by Scheme 01 January 2017- 31 October 2017

 Average processing times (weeks) Summary DecisionsAverage processing times (weeks) Oral Hearings
Adoptive Benefit13.4-
Blind Person’s Pension 20.424.4
Carers Allowance21.323.7
Carers Benefit16.321.2
Child Benefit22.332.1
Disability Allowance18.423.4
Illness Benefit27.330.3
Partial Capacity Benefit35.128.1
Domiciliary Care Allowance26.032.6
Deserted Wifes Benefit13.115.7
Farm Assist21.025.7
Bereavement Grant15.1-
Death Benefit (Pension)102.10-
Family Income Supplement19.633.5
Invalidity Pension16.123.8
Liable Relatives18.824.1
Maternity Benefit18.819.4
Paternity Benefit22.7-
One Parent Family Payment25.234.8
State Pension (Contributory)30.746.9
State Pension (Non-Contributory)25.334.1
State Pension (Transition)81.1-
Occupational Injury Benefit19.526.4
Disablement Pension24.928.8
Medical Care-27.3
Incapacity Supplement54.237.2
Guardian's Payment (Con)25.325.1
Guardian's Payment (Non-Con)15.223.4
Jobseeker's Allowance (Means)19.126.8
Jobseeker's Allowance17.424.7
BTW Family Dividend19.927.5
Jobseeker's Transitional22.524.7
Recoverable Benefits & Assistance27.8-
Jobseeker's Benefit20.023.2
Carer’s Support Grant *17.825.2
Treatment Benefit14.0-
Insurability of Employment36.991.3
Supplementary Welfare Allowance16.525.2
Survivor's Pension (Con)22.934.1
Survivor's Pension (Non-con)20.424.1
Widowed Parent Grant14.1-
All Appeals20.026.0


* Previously called Respite Care Grant

Appeal Processing Times by Scheme 01/01/2016 – 31/12/2016
 Average processing times (weeks) Summary DecisionsAverage processing times (weeks) Oral Hearings
Blind Person’s Pension18.233.8
Carers Allowance17.621.6
Carers Benefit20.722.4
Child Benefit22.138.2
Disability Allowance14.620.1
Illness Benefit27.234.3
Partial Capacity Benefit27.333.6
Domiciliary Care Allowance24.330.6
Deserted Wives Benefit13.032.8
Farm Assist21.926.0
Bereavement Grant23.1-
Death Benefit (Pension)19.7-
Liable Relatives14.016.9
Family Income Supplement20.425.5
Invalidity Pension21.328.2
Maternity Benefit18.921.7
One Parent Family Payment21.731.9
State Pension (Contributory)25.645.9
State Pension (Non-Contributory)22.732.9
State Pension (Transition)67.761.3
Occupational Injury Benefit25.031.9
Disablement Pension25.826.8
Incapacity Supplement27.750.9
Guardian's Payment (Con)15.824.5
Guardian's Payment (Non-Con)18.423.3
Jobseeker's Allowance (Means)16.725.5
Jobseeker's Allowance16.020.9
BTW Family Dividend21.0-
Jobseeker's Transitional19.022.3
Recoverable Benefits & Assistance32.531.6
Jobseeker's Benefit16.027.2
Treatment Benefit17.1-
Carer’s Support Grant *18.123.3
Insurability of Employment36.685.7
Supplementary Welfare Allowance15.024.1
Survivor's Pension (Con)16.628.8
Survivor's Pension (Non-con)18.423.4
Widows Parent Grant23.563.8
All Appeals17.624.1


* Previously called Respite Care Grant

  

Child Maintenance Payments

 61. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she has satisfied herself that lone parents are being forced through rigorous court proceedings in order to seek child maintenance from an ex-partner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50582/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Matters relating to maintenance are for the Department of Justice and Equality and for the Family Courts.The Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976 provides that spouses/civil partners and unmarried parents are required to maintain each other according to their means and needs. Parents, whether married or not, are responsible for the maintenance of their dependent children. Part 12 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005, as amended, reinforces these civil provisions. In cases where the family unit has broken down, these obligations continue to apply and relevant maintenance payments can be arranged either directly or through the Department of Justice and Equality supports like the Family Mediation Service, the Legal Aid Board and the Courts. The arrangement of maintenance is therefore a matter between both parents regardless of whether or not either parent is in receipt of a social welfare payment.

I have no information that suggests that lone parents are being forced through rigorous court proceedings to seek child maintenance.

JobPath Programme

 62. Deputy Willie Penrose Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if there will there be a review of the Jobpath scheme in view of the continuing fall in the live register and unemployment. [50577/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty With JobPath the department has procured additional resources to enable it to provide a high quality case managed employment support service to people who are long term unemployed and those most at risk of becoming long-term unemployed. The JobPath service was designed to augment and complement the Department’s existing employment service capacity, including that provided by LES.    Prior to the introduction of Intreo and JobPath the Department had a case officer to live register ratio of approximately 1,500:1 compared to international benchmarks of less than 200:1. Today with the reduction in the unemployment rate and the increase in capacity, both internally through Intreo and externally through JobPath, the ratio has reached the upper limit of the international norms and is continuing to trend downwards.

  An in-depth evaluation of the JobPath strand of the Department’s activation service has commenced data gathering. Completion of the evaluation is provisionally scheduled for the end of Quarter 3, 2018.

   The Department has however commenced publishing reports on the performance of the service on a quarterly basis. The report can be accessed on the Department’s website.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.   

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

 63. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she will review the entitlements of persons to a State pension (contributory) whose insurance contributions records were interrupted due to periods in receipt of farm assist while farm incomes were low; if the periods that persons were on farm assist can be credited for insurance contribution purposes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50549/17]

 68. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she will give further consideration to the contributory pension entitlements of farmers whose insurance contribution records were interrupted while they availed of farm assist due to low farm incomes and that subsequently resumed payment of the appropriate insurance contributions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50550/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I propose to take Questions Nos. 63 and 68 together.

The farm assist scheme was introduced in 1999 to provide income support for low income farmers. It replaced the former smallholders’ unemployment assistance payment. In line with the then existing arrangements for unemployment assistance (including smallholders) and pre-retirement allowance, the income of farm assist recipients was exempt from class S PRSI for self-employed workers.

Recipients of farm assist who had previously paid Class S social insurance had the option of paying voluntary contributions to maintain their social insurance record, provided they satisfied the qualifying conditions. Since 1st January 2007, the exemption from class S PRSI has been removed and those receiving jobseeker’s allowance and farm assist are subject to Class S PRSI as self-employed contributors on their self-employed income, provided their annual income is €5,000 or more.

There are no plans to amend legislation regarding the State pension (contributory), to award a maximum rate payment to pensioners who had such a period during 1999-2006 when they were exempt from PRSI.

However, a person aged over 66 with limited PRSI contributions over the course of their life may claim a State pension (non-contributory) if they have an income need, and this entitlement is not based on payment of social insurance contributions. The maximum weekly rate is €227, i.e. over 95% of the maximum contributory pension rate. While it is means-tested, there are very significant disregards which are to the benefit of claimants, and a significant majority of such pensioners are paid at the full rate.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 59.

Live Register Data

 65. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if her attention has been drawn to the high levels of underemployment and low levels of job quality in County Wexford; the measures she is taking to reduce live register figures there; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50589/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The official measure of unemployment is sourced from the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS). The most recent data show that unemployment has fallen from a peak of 15% in 2012 to 6.2% by mid-2017. Numbers at work have increased from 1.836 million in Q2 2012 to 2.063 million in Q2 2017, an increase of 227,000 persons. Within the South East region, which includes Wexford, unemployment has fallen from 19.0% to 8.1% over the same period, and numbers in employment have increased by 29,000 to 214,900.While data from the QNHS are not available at the county level, trends in the Live Register can give an indication of underlying trends in local unemployment. Overall, the Live Register in Wexford has fallen by almost 42% in the 5 years to October 2017, close to the reduction of 44% nationally. In the year to October 2017, the Live Register in Wexford has fallen by 1741 people, or almost 14%, again closely in line with the national trend.

Regional QNHS data show increases in employment in the high technology sectors in the South East. Employment in the information and communications sector grew by 50% in the five years up to Q4 2016 compared to 13% nationally. Likewise the professional, scientific and technical activities sector 90%, compared to 19% nationally.

These figures indicate that the county has shared in the overall national recovery both in terms of unemployment and the level and quality of employment.

The Government’s primary strategy to tackle unemployment since 2012 is twofold. First, through policies set out in the Action Plan for Jobs, to create an environment in which business can succeed and create jobs. The policy now includes a specific regional Action Plan for the South East Region that has seen over 8,000 jobs created in the region in the last two years.

Second, through Pathways to Work we ensure that as many of these new jobs and other vacancies that arise in our economy are filled by people taken from the Live Register. Under this policy, the employment service and activation supports provided by my Department are heavily concentrated on the areas of highest unemployment, including those in Wexford.

To date, as I have said, these policies have been effective in reducing unemployment, both nationally and in Wexford. I am confident that they will continue to do so.

  Question No. 66 answered with Question No. 53.

  Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 55.

  Question No. 68 answered with Question No. 63.

Community Employment Schemes Review

 69. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the outcome of consultations with key stakeholders regarding community employment and other activation measures which took place in May 2017; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50468/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty My Department’s Report - An Analysis of the Community Employment Programme was published in April this year. Following the publication my Department undertook nationwide consultation workshops with key Community Employment (CE) scheme stakeholders during May and early June. The consultation was very positive and following the workshops new changes to CE conditions were implemented from 3rd July 2017. The main purpose of these changes is to broaden the availability of CE to a greater number of people on the live register and to standardise other conditions around the length of time a person can participate on the programme.    These changes include reducing the general qualifying age for CE, for those on the live register, from 25 to 21 years. It addition it is now easier for previous participants, who have exhausted their CE entitlement, to requalify as participation prior to the year 2007 is disregarded. From July all participants between 21 and 55 years are entitled to one year on the programme and this can be extended by up to 2 more years if they are engaged in a recognised training or education award that is helping them progress towards employment. Furthermore all CE participants age 55 and over can now avail of 3 consecutive years on a CE scheme. There is an overall lifetime limit of 6 years from 2007 (or 7 years if on a disability payment) on CE.

  The roll-out of the ‘two strand approach’ of activation and social inclusion in terms of how places are categorised is also being progressed. This approach recognised that not all CE places are the same – some places are providing an opportunity for those who are very distant from the labour market and but interested in working and delivering services in their local community.

  Other places are more directly related to employment opportunities with participants achieving a higher level of award and more labour market relevant work experience. The target progression rate for activation places is set at 50%, given their closer links to job opportunities, while the target progression rate for social inclusion places is set at 20%. In terms of measuring the performance of CE schemes in terms of the progression of participants from both activation and social inclusion places regard for local labour market conditions and the training and education opportunities available.

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy .

Defined Benefit Pension Schemes

 70. Deputy Willie Penrose Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty when proposals on defined benefits schemes for the social welfare pensions and civil registration Bill will be published and the Bill advanced having been first published in May 2017. [50576/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The General Scheme of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017, which was published in May, contained a number of key measures to respond to the ongoing difficulties in defined benefit schemes and to increase protections for members. The proposals provide for -i) the introduction of a time limit for submitting funding proposals and for the annual preparation and submission of actuarial funding certificates;   ii) the introduction of a minimum notice period when an employer decides to cease contributions to a scheme; and

  iii) the Pensions Authority to direct payment of a funding obligation payable by the employer to the trustees of the scheme where a scheme is in deficit and the sponsoring employer has failed to adequately support the scheme to address the funding deficit.

  The amendments will act to support existing provisions in the Pensions Act and will encourage employers to ensure that schemes are well funded and managed.

  Taken collectively, the amendments to the Pensions Act seek a middle road between the current position where employers can abandon DB schemes and full and immediate debt on employer provisions. The amendments are designed to ensure the sustainability of DB schemes for scheme members and continued trust in the pensions system as a whole.

  Given the technical and complex nature of the provisions in the General Scheme, including the pension provisions, there was not adequate time to include all of these measures in the text of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 at Second Stage in the Dáil. It is my intention to introduce these amendments to the Bill at Committee Stage.

  In addition, I intend bringing forward amendments at Committee Stage to grant a right of entitlement, in certain circumstances, to a spouse’s pension for civil partners and same sex spouses who are members of occupational pension schemes.

  Drafting of these amendments is at an advanced stage and I expect to bring them forward for publication in the coming weeks.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.   

  Question No. 71 answered with Question No. 59.

State Pensions Reform

 72. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her views on the gap between the age at which the State pension becomes payable and the age at which public servants must retire; her plans to address this; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50586/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 provided for the necessary amendments to increase the State pension age in line with the National Pensions Framework. It provided for an increase in the age for qualification for the State Pension from 66 years to 67 years from 2021, and a further increase to 68 years from 2028. It also discontinued the State Pension (transition) for new claimants with effect from 1 January 2014. As the State Pension (transition) could only be paid if the recipient had retired, and given such a criterion does not apply to the State pension (contributory), this removed a significant disincentive to those who did not wish to retire at State pension age. The Deputy should note that there is no legally mandated retirement age in the State, and the age at which employees retire is a matter for the contract of employment between them and their employers. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is responsible for the terms and conditions of employment and pensions of public servants, including the age at which they may be required to retire. I am informed by that Department that the specific compulsory retirement age and minimum pension age provisions which affect individual public servants reflect their particular employment sector and time of original recruitment.

An interdepartmental group on fuller working lives was chaired last year by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to consider policy around retirement age in both the public and private sectors and it reported in August 2016. Any question regarding the work of that group, and the retirement age of public servants, should be addressed to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Pension Provisions

 73. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the status of her plans to introduce an auto enrolment pension system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50503/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty My Department is drafting what will be a Governmental five year pensions reform plan and I can confirm the Government’s intention to publish and commence the implementation of this reform plan in the near future. The objective of this reform plan will be to provide for a fit for purpose pension system for the coming decades. Perhaps the most fundamental reform contained within the plan will be confirmation of the Government’s intention to develop and introduce a new automatic enrolment supplementary retirement savings system for employees without pensions coverage. The rate of supplementary pension coverage in Ireland is 47% of the working population and this reduces to 35% when the private sector is considered in isolation. Without reform, it is evident that there will not be the increase in savings necessary to ensure that many current workers avoid significant reductions in their living standards at retirement. Automatic enrolment will see a transition from the current and purely voluntary supplementary pension system to one which will, subject to certain parameters, automatically enrol employees into a quality assured retirement savings system. This reform, where the saver will maintain the freedom of choice to opt-out, will encourage long term saving and asset accumulation for retirement. It will increase the wellbeing, financial security and independence of future retirees and furthermore improve the sustainability of our wider pensions system.

Following publication of the reform plan, it is intended that in quarter 1 of 2018 an automatic enrolment policy paper will be published to act as a basis for a public consultation process. Government’s intention is to see first enrolments to the new system by 2021.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes Supervisors

 74. Deputy Eamon Scanlon Information on Eamon Scanlon Zoom on Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the status of the provision of a pension for community employment supervisors; if she will address the failure to act on the Labour Court recommendation that a pension scheme would be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50466/17]

 75. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her plans to introduce a pension for community employment supervisors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50594/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I propose to take Questions Nos. 74 and 75 together.

  Community Employment (CE) scheme supervisors are employees of private companies in the community and voluntary sector. The State is not responsible for funding pension arrangements for such employees even where the companies in question are reliant on State funding. It is open to individuals to make provision for a pension by way of PRSA which all employers are obliged to facilitate.

  Nevertheless, it should be noted that the issue of CE supervisors’ pension provision is currently being examined by a Community Sector High Level Forum, chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. My Department is represented on this group, as are IMPACT, SIPTU, Pobal and other relevant Government Departments.

  The Forum last met on 23 November 2017 and I understand that a paper outlining the costs involved was presented. The unions have agreed to review and revert as soon as possible. Following on from this, a meeting is to be arranged between the trade unions and my colleague, Pascal Donoghue T.D., Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.   

  Question No. 76 answered with Question No. 53.

Social Welfare Appeals Delays

 77. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the steps she will take to speed up the manner in which various appeals are being dealt with which can cause severe hardship; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50548/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years. As a result, appeal processing times improved between 2011 and 2016 from 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing in 2011 to 24.1 weeks in 2016 and from 25.1 weeks for a summary decision in 2011 to 17.6 weeks in 2016. I understand from the Chief Appeals Officer that there has been a slight increase in processing times in 2017 with oral hearings taking, on average, 26 weeks and summary decisions taking 20 weeks to finalise. A number of factors have contributed to the increase including the retirement of six experienced Appeals Officers during the first half of 2017. However, she is hopeful that processing times will improve as a number of newly appointed Officers gain experience in their roles. Specific actions taken to reduce processing times include: liaising with HR to ensure that vacancies are filled quickly; ensuring that training is given to new Appeals Officers as early as possible; working with the Department to reduce time in submitting appeal files; and a restructuring of the mechanism for recording appeal decisions.

It is open to an appellant to claim supplementary welfare allowance pending the outcome of their appeal if their means are insufficient to meet their needs.

The Chief Appeals Officer assures me that processing times are a priority. However, the drive for efficiency must be balanced with the competing demand to ensure that decisions are consistent and of high quality.


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