Any forthcoming changes to the Farm Assist Scheme will not be implemented until next year at the earliest, according to the Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to undertake a review of the farm assist scheme, recognising the challenges facing farmers on low incomes.

While the Minister confirmed that the review has commenced he said its recommendations will be considered in the context of the budget for 2017, subject to the overall budgetary context.

The farm assist scheme provides income support for farmers on low incomes and is similar to jobseeker’s allowance.

Farm assist recipients retain the advantages of the jobseeker’s allowance scheme such as the retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. The 2016 Revised Estimates for his Department provide for expenditure of €85m per year on the farm assist scheme.

“It is a genuine review and a programme for Government commitment and it has just commenced.

“I do not expect it to take too long because I would like to have options costed and ready for the budget discussions.

“Any change will, however, require primary legislation; therefore, it will be next year at the earliest before they come into force,” the Minister said in the Dail this week.

Minister Varakar outlined that he is due to meet the IFA next week to hear its views on this.

“I am also trying to schedule a meeting with the Irish Creamery Milk Supplier Association, ICMSA, and my officials in the west and north west, who would be most used to dealing with this scheme on a practical basis, are being asked their views as to how it might be improved,” he said.

Varadkar said he strongly encourage anyone whose income is substantially down, who has fallen on hard times or who is in trouble to go to their local welfare or Intreo office because, even if they are not entitled to farm assist, they may be entitled to something else if they have no income at all.

“They may be entitled to the basic supplementary welfare allowance, BASI, for example; therefore, I certainly encourage them to engage with their community welfare officer or their welfare office if their income is minimal or gone for whatever reason,” he said.