Know your rights: Health insurance and lifetime community rating

Question

I don’t have health insurance and I’ve been told it will be more expensive for me after 1 May because of my age. Can you explain what is changing?

Answer (April 2015)

Up to now, the cost of an inpatient health insurance policy has been the same for everyone regardless of age. This is known as community rating. From 1 May 2015 a system of lifetime community rating will apply, which means that people may be charged more if they are older when they first take out health insurance. This change will not affect you if you already have health insurance before 1 May 2015 and continue to be insured.

If you are taking out health insurance after this date and you are 35 years of age or older, your annual premium will increase depending on the age you are when you start – by 2% for each year over 34. This increase is called a loading. So, for example, if you are aged 35 there will be a 2% loading, but if you start health insurance at 39 there will be a 10% loading. The maximum loading will be 70%.

If you previously had health insurance but let it lapse, the period for which you had health insurance will be taken into account to reduce the loading that applies.

An allowance (of up to three years) can also be made if you gave up health insurance since the start of 2008 because of unemployment.

People who move to Ireland from another country after 1 May 2015 can avoid having a loading applied if they take out health insurance within 9 months and continue to be insured.

If you have health insurance, you can change your health insurance policy or change your insurer without affecting your loading. A gap in insurance of up to 13 weeks is allowed.

Know Your Rights columns cover topical subjects every month in a question-and-answer format. They are published by the Citizens Information Board online and syndicated through Citizens Information Services to local newspapers around Ireland.

Further information is available from Citizens Information Centres and from the Citizens Information Phone Service, call 0761 07 4000.

Consultations on childcare and early education

The Inter-Departmental Group on Future Investment in Early Years and School-Age Care and Education Services is inviting submissions on childcare and early years education. This group is exploring ways of ensuring that current and future investment delivers more affordable, accessible and high quality early years and school-age care and education.

There are two separate online consultation forms – one for all stakeholders with an interest in the field (including policy-makers, practitioners, providers, advocates and academics) and one specifically for parents and guardians. The closing dates for submissions from the early years sector is Friday 1 May 2015 and the closing dates for submissions from parents and guardians is Monday, 4 May 2015.

Find out more from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. 

Know your rights: Employment services

Question

I am signing for unemployment credits but I don’t qualify for Jobseeker’s Allowance because my partner’s income is over the limits. What supports are there to help me back into the workforce?

Answer (April 2015)

The Department of Social Protection (DSP) provides employment support and advice to jobseekers nationwide. Jobseekers include people who are getting a jobseeker’s payment, people who are signing for credits and people who are unemployed but not eligible for a payment. In general, DSP employment services focus on people getting social welfare payments. However, there are a range of supports for people who are not getting a social welfare payment.

You can avail of upskilling opportunities, for example, through Further Education and Training (FET) courses provided by the Education and Training Boards (ETBs). Day courses and evening courses are available. Although people signing for credits do not get an allowance during the course, you may receive some support for expenses on travel, meals and accommodation.

If you have been signing for credits (for three or nine months depending on the course) you can take part in the Back to Education Allowance scheme. You do not get the allowance but you can apply for a student grant (both the fee and maintenance component of the grant).

If you have been signing for credits for six months, or more you can take part in the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) run by the ETBs (subject to availability). You do not get a training allowance but you may get travel and lunch allowances. If you have been signing for credits for 12 months or longer in the previous 18 months you can take part in Momentum courses. However, you will not receive any payment.

Springboard and Skillnets courses are also open to many people who may not be eligible for a social welfare payment – such as people signing for credits and unemployed graduates. If you have been signing for credits for three months (78 days) in the last six months, you are eligible for the JobBridge programme (and a payment of €50 a week).

Other employment services, such as advice on jobseeking and online job search tools, are available to people who register with DSP employment services regardless of their social welfare status. In general you apply for courses and JobBridge through your local Intreo centre or social welfare local office.

Know Your Rights columns cover topical subjects every month in a question-and-answer format. They are published by the Citizens Information Board online and syndicated through Citizens Information Services to local newspapers around Ireland.

Further information is available from Citizens Information Centres and from the Citizens Information Phone Service, call 0761 07 4000.

The July Programme

The July Education Programme is a funding arrangement for schools to provide further special needs education in the month of July. The scheme provides funding for an extended school year for children with a severe or profound general learning disability or children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Where school-based provision is not feasible, home-based provision may be granted.

Find out more about the July Programme, applying and registering for updates. 

Know your rights: Jobseeker’s Allowance transitional arrangement

Question
I’ve been getting a One-Parent Family Payment but I will no longer qualify when my youngest child turns seven. What is the Jobseeker’s Allowance transitional arrangement and how do I qualify

Answer (April 2015)

If you no longer qualify for a One-Parent Family Payment because your youngest child is over the age limit, you may be eligible for the Jobseeker’s Allowance transitional arrangement (often called JST).  This is a social welfare payment that aims to support you into the workforce while also acknowledging that you are parenting alone and caring for young children aged between 7 and 13. JST allows you to work part-time and still receive a partial payment (depending on your earnings).
The rules that apply to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) and JST are very similar. The means test is similar and the maximum weekly rate of payment is the same. The main differences between JA and JST are that on JST:

  • You do not have to be available for and genuinely seeking full-time work. This is to allow you to meet your caring responsibilities. There are childcare supports available if you do find work.
  • You must be capable of work but you do not have to be fully unemployed for 4 out of 7 days. This means that you could work part-time for 5 days and still receive a payment (subject to the means test). For example, you could work mornings only while your children are in school. Income from work is assessed with a €20 earnings disregard per day of employment (up to a maximum of €60 per week). Any earnings above that are assessed at 60%.
  • You cannot cohabit with another person while you are getting JST. You must continue to parent alone.

When you start getting JST you will be scheduled to attend an activation meeting with a case officer. The purpose of this meeting is to identify and access supports (such as education, training and employment schemes) that will prepare you for full-time employment. If you do not participate in this process, you may be paid a reduced rate of JST (a penalty rate) or you may be disqualified from your JST payment.
If you were getting a Fuel Allowance with your OFP you can keep this when you go onto JST.

Know Your Rights columns cover topical subjects every month in a question-and-answer format. They are published by the Citizens Information Board online and syndicated through Citizens Information Services to local newspapers around Ireland.

Further information is available from Citizens Information Centres and from the Citizens Information Phone Service, call 0761 07 4000.

Watergrant.ie provides information on the Water Conservation Grant

Watergrant.ie is a new website from the Department of Social Protection and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

It provides information on the Water Conservation Grant (€100), which will be payable to households that have registered with Irish Water by 30 June 2015.

It will be possible to apply for the Water Conservation Grant on watergrant.ie from late August 2015.

Visit watergrant.ie.

Find out more in our document on water charges.