Dáil Éireann - Volume 681 - 30 April, 2009

Written Answers. - Social Insurance.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will amend legislation to allow a person who takes a career break during the recession to be credited with a full credit history as this is currently one of the disincentives for not taking up this option. [16982/09]

[620]   Deputy Mary Hanafin: The primary purpose of credited contributions is to preserve the continuity of a person’s insurance record during periods when they are unable to work and pay PRSI in the normal way. In order to qualify for credited contributions, absences from work would generally have to be for reasons outside of the person’s control, such as periods of proven illness or registered unemployment, or periods during which they may be entitled to certain other social welfare payments.

Credited contributions are not generally available in circumstances where a person voluntarily ceases insurable employment on a temporary or permanent basis. This reflects the contributory principle that underpins the qualifying conditions for all social insurance payments. However, a person taking time off work to care for children up to 12 years of age, or an incapacitated adult, may be entitled to avail of the homemaker’s scheme whereby such periods can be taken into account for state contributory pension purposes at age 66.

One of the qualifying conditions for contributory pensions requires that the applicant must have a minimum yearly average number of paid or credited contributions throughout their working lives. Therefore, any prolonged gaps in insurance cover are likely to have significant consequences with regard to pension entitlement.

In the case of short-term benefits such as job-seekers allowance, illness and treatment benefits a person may retain entitlement to such payments for a limited period after their last PRSI contribution but entitlement would then lapse unless further reckonable contributions are recorded on their behalf.

There are no immediate plans to amend the legislation governing credited contributions for persons on a career break. However, it may be possible for a person on a career break to pay voluntary contributions, subject certain statutory conditions. In this regard it should be noted that voluntary contributions are reckonable only with regard to state contributory pension, transition pension and widows/widowers contributory pension. Obviously, depending on the nature of the career break, a person may be eligible to engage in employment or self-employment during the period of the break, thereby making social insurance contributions in the normal way.