Tuesday 12 December 2017

Jobless told: train or work to keep dole

Claimants who snub FAS will lose quarter of their payment

Aine Kerr and Aideen Sheehan

UNEMPLOYED people who refuse to turn up for FAS training courses or interviews will lose up to a quarter of their weekly welfare payments, the Irish Independent has learned.

The unprecedented overhaul of the social welfare system includes a parallel plan to make the long-term jobless -- some of whom have completed training programmes -- carry out community work to get their dole.

The revelations came as the Government prepared to shave €860m off the welfare bill in next month's Budget.

As part of the crackdown, dole claimants on the top rate of €196 face losing as much as €46 from their weekly benefit, if they refuse work and training from FAS.

Only welfare claimants with genuine reasons for refusing FAS offers will be spared from having their payments cut:

  • Those on the lower rate of €153.60 for jobseeker's benefit will have their payment docked to €117.60.
  • Those between the ages of 18 and 21, who are on the reduced rate of €100, will see it fall further to €75.
  • Those aged between 22 and 24 will have their €150 rate reduced to €115.

Only those claimants who can prove they found work, were ill or suffered a bereavement will be spared cuts to payments.

There is a statutory obligation on recipients of jobseeker's payments to be available for, and genuinely seeking, full-time employment.

Those on the dole for three months are selected for referral to FAS, where they receive guidance and offers of training and education.

But due to waiting lists, it can take far longer for FAS to offer training or interview to those on the dole.

Some 70,000 dole recipients were referred on to employment action programmes this year.

Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv revealed yesterday that 8pc failed to attend the interviews and take up any work or training.

These 5,000-plus people still received their full dole payment but would be docked in future.

The Government had new powers to penalise those who failed to participate in the FAS programmes, the minister said.

Meanwhile, a new "welfare-to-work" scheme to be rolled out next year will dock or cancel dole payments if the claimant fails to participate.

Under the pilot scheme, 10,000 long-term unemployed will have to work in sports clubs, meals-on-wheels schemes and after-school programmes to continue getting payments.


Mr O Cuiv said this approach was "not about having a nurse cutting the grass" but about ensuring a much more intensive engagement with people on the live register to help them off welfare.

"People with no good reason who do not interact with the national employment action programme obviously will not retain their payments," he said. The Department of Social Protection last night warned the planned docking in dole rates would commence "shortly". But Brid O'Brien of the National Organisation for the Unemployed claimed the Government was using a "big stick" approach.

"This really is a case of adding insult to injury," she said.

"At a time of limited resources and few jobs, it is essential that resources are used as effectively as possible and sending people on courses or programmes that will offer them little hope for the future is not the way to proceed."

And Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland said that the idea that massive savings could be achieved through such measures was a nonsense, as it was based on the "ludicrous premise" that half the people on the live register were working fraudulently and could be easily moved off welfare.

The reality of the €3bn in cuts planned for social welfare was that payments would be slashed by up to €62 per week for single people, down from €196 to €134 by 2014, he said.

"This would represent a cut of 31pc in the income of Ireland's weak, sick, vulnerable and disabled people," he said.

However, Mr O Cuiv dismissed Social Justice Ireland's claims as scaremongering and "utter nonsense".

Meanwhile, Mr O Cuiv admitted his department overpaid at least €65m last year to those on social welfare. He said €20m was classified as fraud, while the remainder was due to errors either made by the receipient, or by the department.

Irish Independent

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