A TD has said that a cohort of farmers have been “denied justice” by not being informed they had to make Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) contributions while receiving payments under the Farm Assist scheme.

Cavan-Monaghan TD Brendan Smith said that he is aware of farmers that were “horrified” to have found out recently that their insurance record is broken, having gone to accountants once they reached pension age.

In 2018, the then Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty addressed this issue, saying that farmers may have been treated unfairly in pension assessments in the past.

However, the issue was raised by Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith recently.

‘PRSI contributions need to be awarded’

The TD has firmly said that PRSI contributions need to be awarded to farmers who had a “break in their insurance contributions” due to availing of the Farm Assist scheme.

The Farm Assist scheme was introduced in 1999 to provide income support for low-income farmers. Since January 1, 2007, changes were made to PRSI exemptions and deputy Smith said his concerns relate to a cohort of farmers that, between 1999 and 2007, had a break in their insurance contributions due to availing of the scheme.

Deputy Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Heather Humphreys if insurance contributions will be credited to farmers for pension purposes for the time they were in receipt of Farm Assist, which caused a break in their insurance contribution records.

A cohort of people have reached, or are about to reach pension age, and they have been paying social insurance contributions towards a contributory pension.

“They [farmers] have found that because their insurance record was broken while they were in receipt of the payment, they are now entitled only to a reduced contributory pension.

“They are being denied justice through not having the knowledge at the time or because they were never informed by the department or the Revenue Commissioners that they needed to make a contribution while they were in receipt of Farm Assist.”

‘This is a crunch time for these farmers’

Deputy Smith described this as a “crunch time” for these farmers, as they approach pension age.

“As we know, they work very hard. In many cases, their incomes were below the living standard for many years, through no fault of their own,” deputy Smith continued.

They worked very hard over the years and only availed of state assistance when absolutely necessary.

Minister Humphreys said that she will “try to find some resolution” and that she agrees that the farmers were not aware they had to make these payments, adding “the farm assist scheme is absolutely essential; there are farmers who benefit from it to put bread on the table”.