Dole cut for 900 who refused job or training

 

ALMOST 900 people have had their welfare benefits cut by up to €44 a week for refusing to take up reasonable job or training offers.

The number of people penalised under the measure, introduced last year, has climbed significantly over recent months.

About 500 people had their jobseekers’ payments reduced between January and June of this year. This compares to 372 for all of last year.

The so-called “work for dole” scheme is intended to encourage people to come off benefits and take up training or work placements to help them get back into the workforce.

The reduced payment rate is considered by officials to be a last resort following a period of “non-engagement” by a welfare recipient in an employment action plan, or refusing an “appropriate” offer of training by the Department of Social Protection or Fás.

The penalty rates for welfare payments differ depending on the size of the allowance.

While the top rate of jobseekers’ benefit may be cut from €188 to €144 (a €44 reduction), penalties are less for smaller benefits.

For example, a person on a jobseeker’s rate of €84.50 may have their benefit cut to €65 (a €19.50 reduction).

Under previous legislation the Government could suspend a jobseeker’s benefit altogether rather than reduce welfare rates. But in practice this was rarely done as it could leave people destitute.

According to Department of Social Protection briefing documents, the number of penalties applied began to climb after new measures were introduced, in the second quarter of this year, to enhance the consistent application of penalty rates nationally.

“This was achieved by developing and issuing revised operational instructions. In addition the department ran a one-day seminar for staff to clarify understanding and share best-practice,” one internal document states.

“This was attended by around 125 staff nationally who are integral to the information, policy and decision-making processes in relation to the application of penalty rates.”

In a separate development, hundreds of people who get rent supplement are due to receive letters warning that their benefit may be suspended.

This is because their landlords have not provided a tax reference number from the Revenue Commissioners. This aims to ensure that landlords declare rental income.

The department has an agreement to provide the Revenue Commissioners with details of all rent-supplement payments on an annual basis.

Latest figures indicate there is currently a compliance rate among landlords of about 96 per cent.

However, officials have identified about 3,500 cases over recent years in which rent supplement was paid to landlords who had not provided their tax details.

A department briefing note drafted in June states that officials were about to isolate about 1,700 of these cases – which date to before 2010 – to enforce compliance.

“The rent-supplement tenant will be made aware in advance of the possibility that their payment will be suspended arising from the failure of the landlord to provide the landlord tax reference number information,” an internal document states.

Once this process is complete, officials will target a further 1,800 cases that date from 2010 and 2011.

Documents note that a person may be paid rent supplement for 21 days in “exceptional cases” where they could not supply the landlord’s tax reference number.

“It should be stressed that this will only occur in exceptional cases, ie where homelessness would result,” it states.

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