Benefits, money and housing biggest concerns of citizens seeking information

Disincentives to work created by social welfare policy highlighted

Social welfare, housing, money and tax issues were the biggest concerns of people seeking information from citizens’ information centres in the first three months of this year.

Some social welfare staff were found to have given incomplete or incorrect information, while sometimes important information was not given at all.

Another social welfare issue highlighted was disincentives to work created by current social welfare policy.

This included basing a part-time worker’s eligibility for jobseeker’s payment on the number of days worked rather than hours. Under the current rules those working more than three days per week are not entitled to jobseeker’s allowance or benefit even if their wages are low and they work few hours.

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The authors also said that a growing reliance on private rented accommodation, coupled with falling wages could in certain circumstances mean it might not be a “viable option” to take up full-time work if the person became ineligible for rent supplement.

In addition, the Department of Social Protection’s decision to reduce the maximum rental levels for anyone receiving a supplement has had an “adverse impact on many tenants” and, in some cases, increased the risk of homelessness, the report said.

The Citizens’ Information Board (CIB) said the combined effect of lowering maximum rental limits and increasing the tenant contribution had forced many to illegally underdeclare rent on their claim forms while agreeing to pay the difference to the landlord in cash.

The CIB collects reports each quarter from the Citizens’ Information Services and the national Citizens’ Information Phone Service on policy issues or problems that occur repeatedly. Of the 774 reports made in the first quarter of this year more than half related to social welfare issues.

Delays in processing social welfare payments was a prominent issue. At the end of March one terminally ill man in a hospice was still awaiting a decision on a disability allowance claim that had been made in January.

The man had asked daily about the claim and believed he would die before the decision was made.

A woman with a serious autoimmune disease reported that her disability and carer’s allowance applications had taken almost a year to process. She had children and the board said the delay caused considerable distress to “an already vulnerable” family.

CIB said additional resources, in addition to a discretionary fast-tracking system, should be made available to speed up the application and appeals process. The board added that rules based on the number of hours worked which dictate eligibility for jobseeker’s payments, rent and family income supplements should be changed to recognise “the reality of the labour market”.

Access to social housing, some of which is in disrepair, was described as “ overly restrictive” and a number of problems associated with the introduction of the local property tax were also identified.