More power for social welfare inspectors


SOCIAL WELFARE inspectors are to be given powers to work at ports and airports to combat welfare fraud and abuse.

The new provisions, in legislation to be introduced by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, will allow inspectors to work more closely with other State officials at ports and airports.

It is to enable “more targeted and productive operations to be undertaken at points of entry and exit to the country”.

However the Department of Social Protection said yesterday the legislation would not provide for handing over passenger lists.

The department also said additions to new social welfare and pensions legislation would enable social welfare inspectors to ask landlords about any of their tenants who received rent supplement. It said this would provide it with “further means of ensuring that rent supplement is being paid correctly”.

The department also said reforms to the payment of jobseeker’s benefit would be an incentive for part-time workers on the scheme to return to full-time work.

It said that now, for each day a person was unemployed, one-sixth of the normal rate of jobseeker’s benefit was payable. “For example, if they get part-time work for two days, they can get four-sixths of the normal jobseeker’s benefit for that week.

“From July 2012, jobseeker’s benefit for a person working for part of a week will be based on a five-day rather than a six-day week. In other words, for each day that a person is unemployed, one-fifth of the normal rate of jobseeker’s benefit is payable and if they get part-time work for two days, they will get three-fifths of the normal jobseeker’s benefit.”

The department also said that amendments to be introduced to the legislation at committee stage would also “ensure that the mortgage-interest supplement scheme takes account of the forbearance arrangements set out in the mortgage arrears resolution process”.

Ms Burton said yesterday that when the State pension age rose – initially to 66, beginning in 2014 – anyone still obliged to retire at age 65 would be entitled to jobseeker’s benefit and every other social welfare support until they qualified for the State pension.

The Bill will also introduce a risk reserve for defined benefit (or final salary) pension schemes. The reserve is designed to be a buffer for schemes in times of adversity.Most defined-benefit schemes are already in financial trouble.

The Minister said that the funding standard – a regulatory measure to ensure DB pensions schemes are fully funded – will be restored. It had been in abeyance for some time, she noted.

The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, David Begg, yesterday called on the Government to postpone plans to raise the pension age, ultimately to 68, along with changes to the qualification regime.

“What do you do with the person between the time they retire . . . and the time they get the old-age pension? There is a big gap there. People can’t live on air and there has to be some arrangements made to bridge that gap.”

At a conference organised by Congress, the Minister said average life expectancy had doubled in the past 100 years while the pension age had remained broadly the same or even reduced in some cases.

“In relation to State pension provision, if we are to deliver on our social contract to those in retirement, we need people to remain in work for as long as possible so we can deliver the supports necessary on retirement”.

Employers body Ibec said workplaces were not prepared for changes to State pension rules.

Director Brendan McGinty said: “An increase in the average retirement age is unavoidable for a number of reasons, including to ensure that workers can expect an appropriate level of income in retirement and to contribute to the sustainability of pensions.

“To simply abolish the State pension for 65-year-olds from 2014 does not meet that objective and may have unintended consequences for up to 14,000 people who would be expected to retire.”