‘No plans to review new participant duration limits in the Rural Social Scheme’

There are no plans to review the new participant duration limits recently introduced in the Rural Social Scheme, the Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar confirmed.

Minister Varadkar was responding to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fail TD Eamon O Cuiv, asking if he will review the duration limits for new participants in the scheme in the interest of equity to all participants.

The Rural Social Scheme (RSS) provides income support to farmers and fishermen who have an entitlement to specified social welfare payments, Minister Varadkar said.

Participants are engaged for 19 and a half hours per week to provide certain services of benefit to rural communities, he added.

“A six year maximum participation limit on the scheme has been introduced for new participants commencing on or after February 1, 2017.

The six years can be continuous, provided the participant remains eligible for the underlying social welfare payment.

“The Deputy should note that existing RSS participants will remain on the scheme as long as they continue to satisfy the eligibility conditions of the scheme,” he said.

Of the current RSS participants, almost 50% have been on the scheme for over 10 years, he added.

“As a result, opportunities for new people to go on the scheme are very limited.

The six year limit will ensure that there will be a throughput of places available, so more people can participate on the scheme.

“In addition, income support will still be available to eligible farmers and fishermen who are not on RSS in the form of farm or fish assist,” he said.

Minister Varadkar also recently announced 500 extra places on the RSS, bringing the total number from 2,600 to 3,100.

This represented the first increase since 2006 when the numbers increased by 100 from 2,500 to 2,600.

In allocating the additional places, the Government recognises the benefits the RSS provides for participants and their families, the Minister for Social Protection said.

The Government also recognises the valuable contribution the scheme is making to the provision of services in communities across Ireland, he added.