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Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013: Second Stage (resumed)

Vote from 30/05/2013

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As summarized by Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick:
The Bill provides for amendments to the social welfare code arising from budget 2013 and the related policy matters. It also amends the Pensions Act 1990, providing for the restructuring of the Pensions Board.

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Background information

As summarized by Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick:
The Bill provides for amendments to the social welfare code arising from budget 2013 and the related policy matters. It also amends the Pensions Act 1990, providing for the restructuring of the Pensions Board.
Budget 2013 announced a number of measures to broaden the income base for PRSI in order to ensure the stability of the Social Insurance Fund so that it can continue to pay the pensions and benefits required by those who need them most. A number of these measures were provided for in the Social Welfare Act 2012, including an increase in the minimum level of annual contribution of the self-employed, from €253 to €500. This Bill extends liability for PRSI contributions to certain civil and public sector workers, who pay modified rates of PRSI - classes B, C and D - and who also have income from a trade or profession. Such income will now become liable for PRSI at the rate of 4%, but will not count towards determining entitlement to social insurance benefits. The Bill also provides that a working director with a shareholding of 50% or greater in a company is not insurable as an employed contributor in the company, and is insurable at PRSI Class S, as a self-employed person.

The Bill also introduces measures to allow for the transition of lone parents to the jobseeker's allowance scheme when they no longer qualify for one-parent family payment due to their youngest child reaching the specified age threshold. Former recipients of the one-parent family payment will be exempt from a number of the conditions for jobseeker's allowance for a transitional period up until their youngest child reaches the 14 years of age. Lone parents who qualify for jobseeker's allowance during the transitional period will be required to engage proactively with normal activation process in order to retain their payment. In effect, the lone parents in question will be placed on a targeted version of the jobseeker's allowance to be known as jobseeker's transition.

In recognition of the nature of their conditions of employment, the Bill also provides that the retained fire-fighters will be exempt from certain conditions applying to the jobseeker's benefit and allowance schemes. These changes will reflect the administrative arrangements that are already in place.

A measure to strengthen control of social welfare expenditure will require an existing social welfare client to provide certain information and to have his or her photograph and signature electronically captured for the purpose of identification on a periodic basis. A person who refuses without good reason to comply with these requirements will be disqualified from continuing to receive a social welfare payment.

The Bill extends the list of bodies that are authorised to use the personal public service number, PPSN, for the purposes of carrying out transactions with members of the public and for the sharing of personal data and information for the purpose of carrying out such transaction. The additional bodies being included are the Insolvency Service of Ireland, Quality and Qualifications Ireland, and payment service providers who have been authorised by the Revenue Commissioners to collect the local property tax. The Bill amends the Civil Registration Act 2004 to facilitate online access to the index information from the registers of births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships.

The Pensions Board is being renamed as the pensions authority. The authority will consist of an independent chairperson appointed by the Minister for Social Protection and two ordinary members, reduced from 16 ordinary members. The two ordinary members will consist of a representative of the Minister for Social Protection and a representative of the Minister for Finance.

Another change included in the Bill is the establishment of new unincorporated body called the pensions council. The function of the council will be to advise the Minister for Social Protection and the pensions authority on pension matters on requests or on its own initiative. The pensions council will not be a corporate body and will not have the power to spend money. The chairperson of the pensions council will be unpaid and will be appointed by the Minister.

The Pensions Board will be provided with the power to wind-up a pension scheme in circumstances where a scheme is under funded and the trustees and employer are not in a position to adopt a funding proposal, and where the trustee of the scheme fails to comply with a section 50 direction to restructure scheme benefits.

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