Dáil Éireann - Volume 681 - 30 April, 2009

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when unemployment assistance will be awarded in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17346/09]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: The person concerned applied for jobseeker’s allowance with effect from 21 April 2009. This application is being examined and he will be notified of the outcome in due course. The person concerned has also claimed illness benefit but has insufficient contributions paid/credited to qualify for payment.

The address quoted is the only one known to the Department for this person.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in regard to qualification for the back to education allowance; if these requirements are expected to be eased in the current climate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17347/09]

[695]   Deputy Mary Hanafin: Since its introduction, the underlying objective of the back to education allowance scheme has been to equip people on social welfare payments with qualifications that will enable them to obtain employment in the labour market. It is a second chance educational opportunities scheme for people on welfare payments who wish to participate in full time education and who would not otherwise be able to do so.

Improvements to the scheme were announced in the recent supplementary budget. The qualifying period has been reduced to three months for access to the second level option. Also jobseekers who engage with the department’s facilitator programme can access the third level option at nine months on the recommendation of a facilitator.

In general, to qualify, an applicant must be at least 21 years of age prior to commencing an approved course of study. However, lone parents and persons in receipt of jobseeker's payments can qualify at 18 years of age provided they are out of formal education for at least 2 years. In addition an applicant must be in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment for 3 months if pursuing a second level course or 12 months if pursuing a third level course.

In response to the current economic circumstances people who are awarded statutory redundancy may access the scheme immediately, provided an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment is established prior to commencing an approved course of study. Also as indicated earlier the qualifying period for the third level option is reduced to 9 months for persons who are participating in the National Employment Action Plan process or engaging with a department facilitator.

The Government recognises that education has an important role to play in enhancing the employability skills of those on the Live Register and the qualifying conditions of the back to education scheme will continue to be monitored.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her proposals to alleviate hardship and speed up the processing of applications for various social welfare payments in view of the ongoing downturn in the economy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17348/09]

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her plans to expedite applications for unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit thereby eliminating hardship; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17356/09]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: I propose to take Questions Nos. 183 and 191 together.

This Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers. This includes ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as expeditiously as possible. The staff and other resources available to the Department are regularly reviewed having regard to the workload arising and other competing demands. The available resources are then used to discharge the Department’s obligations towards our claimants and in implementing cost effective controls to prevent and detect fraud and abuse. With the increase in the number of people applying for jobseeker's payments staff in local offices have been working extremely hard to process claims as quickly as possible, however there are delays in some areas.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the average length of time currently taken to process an application for disability benefit and invalidity pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17349/09]

[696]   Deputy Mary Hanafin: The average length of time taken to process applications for Disability Allowance, Illness Benefit and Invalidity Pension for the first three months of 2009 is as follows:

(In Weeks)

January ’09

February ’09

March ’09

Disability Allowance

18

15

15

Illness Benefit

2

1

1

Invalidity Pension

11

13

9

The Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers. This includes ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlements are made as expeditiously as possible. The staff and other resources available to the Department are regularly reviewed having regard to the workload arising and other competing demands.