Know Your Rights: Debt Relief Notices

Question

I am unemployed, getting social welfare and living in rented accommodation. I have large credit card debts and a credit union loan of €13,300. I can’t make my repayments and the only asset I have is a car worth €1,200, which I need to take my son to school. Is there anything I can do to reduce my debts?

Answer

You may qualify for a Debt Relief Notice (DRN). This is one of three debt resolution mechanisms introduced under the Personal Insolvency Act 2012  for people who cannot afford to pay their personal debts. In general, you can qualify for a DRN if your net monthly income after deductions for reasonable living expenses is under €60 and your total assets are valued at €400 or less. There are some exceptions. You are allowed, for example, to own a motor vehicle valued at €2,000 or less. You may qualify for a DRN if all your qualifying debts are below €20,000, excluding certain “non-permitted” debts.

You must apply for a DRN through an Approved Intermediary (AI). You must disclose all details of your financial affairs to the AI, who will then advise you whether or not you meet the conditions for a DRN, the consequences, and any alternative options. The AI service is free.

The DRN provides you with protection from creditors for three years. If your circumstances do not change and you meet all the conditions of your DRN, at the end of the three-year period the money you owe to the creditors named on the DRN will be written off.

You can choose an AI from the Register of Approved Intermediaries published by the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI). Several Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) companies have been authorised as AIs. If you plan to apply for a DRN through MABS, you will first need to answer some questions to check if you meet the eligibility criteria. You will need to gather all relevant information about your debts, assets, income and circumstances.

You can get further information from MABS on 0761 07 2000 (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 8 pm)  mabs.ie or from the ISI’s helpline 0761 06 4200 (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 6 pm) and isi.gov.ie. The ISI also has a new website backontrack.ie for people who are struggling with debt.

Seasonal flu vaccination campaign

Flu is a very serious illness - there can be potentially 1,000 flu related deaths in Ireland during a severe flu season. The HSE recommends that the following groups of at-risk people should be vaccinated against seasonal influenza:

  • Everyone aged 65 years and over
  • Anyone over six months of age with a long term illness requiring regular medical follow-up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, diabetes or those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment
  • Pregnant women
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long stay facilities
  • Healthcare workers

In addition to seasonal flu vaccination, some people in the at-risk groups may also need pneumococcal vaccine which is available from GPs. Pneumococcal vaccine is not required every year – most people only need to get it once, so those at risk should check with their GP.

The HSE provides the flu and pneumococcal vaccine free of charge for all those in the at-risk groups. The vaccine and consultation are free for people with a medical card or GP visit card. People who do not have a medical card or GP visit card will be charged a consultation fee.

Those aged 18 years or older in the at risk groups may attend either their GP or pharmacist for vaccination and people under 18 should go to their GP.

Know Your Rights: Household Benefits Package and water charges

Question

I live alone and get a State Pension. Will I be able to get any help with the new water charges?

Answer

Domestic water charges will apply from 1 October 2014 and the first bills will issue from January 2015. A free allowance of a certain amount of water will be provided for every household, with extra allowances for children. If you are getting the Household Benefits Package, you will also get help with the cost of water charges. From January 2015 the Household Benefits Package will include a new annual Water Support payment of €100 (made up of four equal payments of €25). The Water Support payment will be paid to everyone who qualifies for the Household Benefits Package. This includes people who are not customers of Irish Water and who either have their own water supply or are members of a group scheme. If you are currently getting the Household Benefits Package and get your allowance as a credit on your bill, the Department of Social Protection (DSP) does not hold payment details for you. In September 2014 the DSP contacted customers to ask them to complete a form with their bank account information so the Water Support payment can be paid directly. The Water Support payment can also be paid in post offices. The Water Support payment will be paid directly to you, not to Irish Water. If your home is connected to a public water supply (or to public wastewater services) you will need to set up an account with Irish Water to pay your water charges and to claim the free household allowance. Irish Water has sent customer application packs to all households, to be returned by 31 October 2014.

Budget 2015: It was announced in Budget 2015 that from 2015 tax relief on water charges at the standard rate of 20% will be available, up to a maximum of €500 per annum (which means a maximum €100 tax credit). This relief will be paid in arrears. An additional Water Support payment of €100 per annum will be paid to all Fuel Allowance recipients who do not already get the Household Benefits Package.

Know Your Rights: Getting a PPS number

Question

I’ve just moved to Ireland and I’m looking for a job. Some potential employers have asked for my PPS Number. What is it and how do I get one?

Answer

Your Personal Public Service Number (PPS Number) is a unique reference number that helps you to access public services in Ireland. Sometimes employers say that you must have a PPS Number when applying for a job. What they really mean is that you need to have the right to work in Ireland and they use the PPS Number as shorthand for this. However, in law they are not entitled to do this (and having a PPS Number does not prove that you have the right to work in Ireland).

The legislation that governs the use of PPS Numbers states that the PPS Number can only be used by:

  • Any organisation listed in legislation (a public or specified body)
  • Any person or body authorised by a public body to do so
  • Any person who has a transaction with a public body

This means that private companies or bodies (including potential employers) cannot use the number unless they are carrying out a transaction with a public body such as Revenue. The Personal Public Service Number Code of Practice on the Department of Social Protection’s website outlines who can use the PPS Number and for what purposes.

If you have newly arrived in Ireland you cannot get a PPS Number unless you need it for a transaction with a specified body. For example:

  • Starting work (so you can pay tax, PRSI and Universal Social Charge)
  • Applying for a driving licence or exchanging your existing one for an Irish driving licence
  • Applying for Child Benefit or another social welfare payment
  • Setting up an account with Irish Water

Only the Department of Social Protection can provide you with a PPS Number. You can find a list of the social welfare local offices that can allocate PPS Numbers on the Department’s website. You will need to fill out an application form (which is only available from one of these PPS allocation centres), provide proof of your identity and evidence of your address. You may also be asked to show why you need a PPS number.

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.

Support service for bereaved farm families

A new service for the bereaved families of farmers who have died unexpectedly has been set up by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This specialised service provides a single point of contact  that can help with the issues that can follow a sudden bereavement. You can get information and support on schemes and services, ownership, entitlements, applications, succession and inheritance.

Contact the Quality Customer Services Unit at qualityserviceunit@agriculture.gov.ie  or lo-call 0761 064445.

 

Find out about palliative care

The first all island Palliative Care Week takes place from October 6-11. It aims to inform people about palliative care.

Essentially palliative care aims to meet the physical, practical, social, emotional and spiritual needs of patients and carers facing progressive illness that may limit or shorten their lives. It includes bereavement support. This care can be provided at any stage following diagnosis. Palliative care is for people of all ages to help them live as well as possible.

Visit thepalliativehub.com to find out more.

Fire Safety Week

National Fire Safety Week runs from Monday 6 October 2014 to Monday 13 October 2014. A routine fire safety check only takes a few minutes but could mean the difference between life and death.There are some simple things you can do to protect yourself and your family from fire:

  • Check your home, room by room, for fire dangers and correct them
  • Get at least one smoke alarm for each floor in the home
  • Make a fire escape plan and practise it often

Find out more at firesafetyweek.ie.