The number of recipients of Farm Assist has declined 33% since 2012, according to figures supplied to AgriLand from the Department of Social Protection (DSP).

Farm Assist is a means-tested payment for low income farmers or smallholders.

At the end of May this year, there were 7,391 recipients, with 3,124 in receipt of an increase for a qualified adult.

Recipients by year ending December:
  • 2016: 7,828 recipients, with 3,297 in receipt of an increase for a qualified adult;
  • 2015: 8,790 recipients, with 3,794 in receipt of an increase for a qualified adult;
  • 2014: 9,809 recipients, with 4,314 in receipt of an increase for a qualified adult;
  • 2013: 10,303 recipients, with 4,641 in receipt of an increase for a qualified adult;
  • 2012: 11,029 recipients, with 5,043 in receipt of an increase for a qualifed adult.

A spokesperson for the DSP said the Farm Assist scheme is very closely aligned to the Jobseekers’ Allowance scheme, and effectively mirrors how self-employed people are supported under that scheme.

It features a more generous means test, which takes account of the specific nature of farming, and unlike Jobseekers’ Allowance, farmers claiming this payment do not need to be available for work outside of the farm, in order to qualify.

As Farm Assist is means-tested, the rate of payment will vary from claimant to claimant depending on their means, the spokesperson said.

The maximum weekly personal rate is €193, with a qualified adult increase of €128.10 and a qualified child increase of €29.80 on full rate or €14.90 on half rate.

An increase is payable for every child dependant if a claimant is in receipt of an increase for a qualified adult dependant.

The department spokesperson said that if a claimant does not qualify for an increase for a qualified adult, they may qualify for a half-rate increase for a qualified child dependant.

Budget 2017 introduced new measures in relation to the assessment of means for Farm Assist.

“These include that 70% of farm income is assessed as means, down from 100% being assessed as means – a 30% income disregard – and an additional annual means disregard of €254 for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and subsequent children,” the spokesperson said.

“These measures fully reverse the cuts to the Farm Assist means test that were introduced in Budgets 2012 and 2013.

“The measures came into effect in March 2017. Farm Assist recipients also benefitted from the following measures announced in Budget 2017: €5 per week increase in the weekly rate of payment; 85% Christmas bonus, and the Rural Social Scheme was expanded to provide an additional 500 places,” said the spokesperson.

The provisional figure for expenditure on Farm Assist amounted to €78,831 in 2016. In 2011, it was €113,724.

Donegal had the highest number of recipients at 1,269 at the end of May, 2017.

Mayo was next at 1,217 recipients, while Galway had 735 recipients.

Representatives of the farming sector will be invited to the department’s Pre-Budget Forum, which Minister Doherty will be hosting in July, the DSP spokesperson said.

“They will have an opportunity at this forum to make their proposals in relation to social welfare schemes, for consideration in advance of Budget 2018.”

Rural Social Scheme

The Rural Social Scheme (RSS), which is in place since 2004, provides opportunities for farmers and fishermen and women, who are in receipt of specified social welfare payments, to undertake work that provides certain services that are beneficial to rural communities.

While communities benefit from the skills of local farmers and fishermen, participants also have the opportunity to improve existing skills, or develop new skills, while doing valuable work in their local communities.

“Community groups have benefited from the many projects undertaken through the Rural Social Scheme, with minimal cost to the Exchequer. The scheme also plays an important role in sustaining rural communities,” the spokesperson said.

“The work undertaken is primarily to support local service provision via community, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations, provided that this does not displace existing service provision or employment,” the spokesperson said.

RSS is delivered through 35 local development companies and Údarás Na Gaeltachta.

“Participants must continue to be actively farming or fishing, and retain entitlement to an underlying qualifying Department of Social Protection payment, in order to retain eligibility for participation on RSS.

“Participation is by self-selection, and is dependent on the availability of vacancies in the relevant locality. Participants work for an average of 19.5 hours a week,” the spokesperson said.

An additional 500 RSS places were announced in Budget 2017. They were rolled out with effect from February 1 last, increasing the overall number of participant places to 3,100, according to the spokesperson.

The department’s expenditure on the RSS in 2016 amounted to €44.3 million and the allocation for this year is €47.6 million.