Meeting Basic Living Costs -Citizens Information Board Highlights Citizens’ Concerns ahead of Budget 2020
Over one million queries inform Citizens Information Board (CIB) pre-budget submission.
CIB-funded delivery services dealt with over one million queries and assisted over 700,000 people to access a wide range of social, public and financial services in 2018. Drawing from these experiences, the ‘Meeting Basic Living Costs’ pre-budget submission 2020 sets out a series of recommendations that focus on targeted measures across a range of areas that could make life easier for people as they struggle to deal with basic household expenditure.
Many clients are trying to adapt to changing circumstances or have experienced a financial shock leaving them unable to meet basic essential living costs. These financial pressures include costs associated with rent or mortgage, fuel, food, education, clothing or transport. Many of these people are dependent on CIB services to help them negotiate a debt or access some form of payment, benefit or entitlement.
Angela Black, Chief Executive, CIB said: “We use the insights gained from the queries received by our services to illustrate how government policies impact people who are trying to secure their rights and entitlements. This is in line with our statutory role to highlight areas of concern for service users. We believe this evidence offers an authoritative basis to inform Budget 2020 decisions across a range of areas such as social welfare, housing and disability as well as Government responses to over-indebtedness and financial exclusion.”
The submission focused on the following key priority areas:
In-work welfare and support. This provides vital income security for people who must combine welfare with work in order to make ends meet. The main issues of concern that have been highlighted by services in relation to work and welfare have become more complex because of the particular interaction of tax, social welfare and activation measures.
- Increase the income disregards for those on the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) and Jobseeker’s Transitional (JST) payment.
- Increase the IQC (Increase for a Qualified Child) rates, with a proportional increase for recipients with children over the age of 12.
- Change eligibility for jobseekers payments from a ‘days worked’ to ‘hours worked’ basis to better reflect part-time and casual working patterns.
Income supports for people with disabilities, those experiencing illness and carers. There were almost 120,000 queries made to Citizens Information Services in 2018 related to these payments and supports. The key underlying issue with disability and illness benefits concerns processing times (up to six months in some cases) and communications.
- Restore the number of waiting days for Illness Benefit from six to three days.
- Expedite the processing of applications, reviews and appeals (disability, illness, carers and Working Family Payment).
- Improve awareness of safety net payments (Basic Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) and Exceptional Needs Payments (ENP)) more fully into the system
- Introduce measures to increase the levels of support required to address cost of living with a disability in Ireland based on the outcomes of the cost of disability research.
The availability and affordability of housing. Staff in information services responded to over 95,000 housing queries during 2018. It remains a critical and ongoing issue for many clients. The key issues here are availability and affordability even with the assistance of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). The underlying concern is the low level of social housing stock and the length of time that tenants are spending on social housing waiting lists.
- Review the income eligibility thresholds for applications for social housing support as assessed by local authority under the Social Housing Assessment regulations.
- Provide adequate resources to local authorities for the monitoring and enforcement of minimum standards in relation to HAP properties.
- Introduce a state-financed rental or ‘rent-to-buy’ caravan scheme for travellers, to ensure access to affordable and sustainable homes for those who wish to live in such culturally appropriate accommodation.
- Address housing needs of people with disabilities.
Care in the home and affordable and timely access to health care. The significant issues here concern adequate home care packages for older people, increase in personal assistant hours for people with disabilities and a lack of practical linkages between hospitals and community health services. In 2018, some 50% of NAS advocacy cases concerned housing or accommodation issues. It is worth noting that there were 65,000 medical card related queries to information staff. It remains the highest single issue recorded by information staff and constitutes two thirds of all health service queries.
- Provide increased resources to local authorities to fund the Housing Adaptation Grants for Older people and Mobility Aids Grants Scheme.
- Establish a new homecare scheme on a statutory basis as a priority and, in the interim, provide increased funding for the provision of personal assistance hours, home help and home care packages for people with disabilities and older people living in the community.
Childcare provision and other basic costs such as fuel and transport. The cost of childcare remains a concern and barrier for parents (particularly women) taking up work or increasing their hours. There were 73,000 queries relating to Extra Social Welfare Benefits which typically refer to free travel, household benefits package and fuel allowance. These play a significant role in helping people to meet basic essential living costs.
- Develop a more integrated, multi-dimensional approach to fuel poverty- that is, regulation and action on energy processes, targeted financial support to certain households (lone parents, older people, unemployed) and the expansion of energy efficient schemes.
- Review all current SEAI grants and schemes in light of the Climate Action Plan and develop a range of sustainable financial arrangements (such as low cost loan finance options) for low income households in order to fund retrofitting.
- Address energy poverty issues amongst Travellers living in sub-standard accommodation.
Problem debt and financial inclusion. In 2018 there were 17,465 new clients in MABS and the National helpline dealt with 26,292 calls. There were a further 10,223 new clients in the second quarter of 2019 and 13,537 calls handled by the MABS Helpline for the same period. For many MABS clients the minimum wage is too low to ensure a basic standard of living. While progress has been made, policy implementation in relation to the resolution of mortgage arrears for households on low income remains problematic. Affordable credit is also an issue.
- Review personal insolvency legislation to achieve a better balance between debtor, creditor and ultimately to enable people with legacy problem debt to move on.
- Provide a public/non-commercial Personal Insolvency Practitioner (PIP) service through the MABS network to facilitate those on lower incomes to avail of personal insolvency solutions.
- Greater flexibility required in relation to the Mortgage to Rent Scheme (MTR) to deliver more solutions. Consideration should also be given to the role of local authorities assuming a greater role in the MTR process.
- Extend scope of personal micro credit scheme within credit unions.
The full report can be accessed at: