Thursday, 18 February 2010
Teresa McCourt, Westmeath Citizens Information Service
Teresa Mc Court has been the Development Manager with Co Westmeath Citizens Information Service since 1997. The service runs 2 full time Citizens Information Centres, one in Mullingar and one in Athlone and Outreach centres in Castlepollard and Kilbeggan.
The service dealt with over 32,000 queries from members of the public in 2008 alone. The figures so far for 2009 are showing a marked rise on last year with close to 3000 queries in each of the first 2 months. The main issues people have are Employment, Social Welfare Heath and Housing, but the service also deals with queries on Education, Tax, Immigration and many other topics. Every effort is made to provide a high quality comprehensive and confidential service to the public. The service is free.
Teresa began her career as a civil servant working in the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Social Welfare. She studied Public Administration, Community Development , Psychology and also completed a Diploma with Open University in the Management Voluntary and Non Profit Organisations.
She remains actively involved in Community affairs in a voluntary capacity. She is a Board member of Athlone Community Services Council, Dr. Stephens Centre for the unemployed, The Midlands Support Agency and Citizens Information Phone Service.
In her role as a Development Manager she has initiated programmes such as a weekly "know your rights" slot on local radio which has been extremely successful.
The service runs public Information workshops on topics such as Pensions, Wills and Inheritance. And also gives presentations to Community groups on request.
In light of the economic crisis queries at the Westmeath CIC have become increasingly complex as more and more people are faced with unemployment.
Notice: You must give your employer at least 4 weeks' written notice of your intention to take maternity leave and you must also provide your employer with a medical certificate confirming the pregnancy. If you intend to take the additional 16 weeks' maternity leave you must provide your employer with at least 4 weeks' written notice. Both these notices can be given at the same time.
Early birth: If your baby is born more than 4 weeks before your due date, you will have fulfilled the notice requirements if you give your employer written notice within 14 days of the birth.
Medical certification: Section 11 of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 provides that if you are certified by your doctor as needing to start maternity leave for medical reasons, your maternity leave will start on the earlier date as specified on the medical certificate. In this case you are considered to have complied with the notice requirements.
Return to work: You must give your employer at least 4 weeks' written notice of your intention to return to work
It is important to comply with these notice requirements, as failure to do so may cause loss of rights.
You must notify your employer as soon as possible if you wish to postpone your maternity leave (but remember, your employer can refuse this application.
Entitlement to Annual Leave following Maternity leave:
You are entitled to leave for any public holidays that occur during your maternity leave (including additional maternity leave).
The right of employees to leave for public holidays is set down in Section 21 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.
Time spent on maternity leave (including additional maternity leave) is treated as though you have been in employment, and this time can be used to accumulate annual leave and public holiday entitlement.
Benefits during extra maternity leave:
There are no extra benefits paid or otherwise during unpaid leave except that you continue to build up entitlement to annual leave and any public holidays that occur during this time.
What is Maternity Benefit and how much can someone expect to get paid on maternity benefit?
Maternity Benefit is a payment made to women on who are maternity leave from work and covered by social Insurance (PRSI). You should apply for the payment 6 weeks before you intend to go on maternity leave (12 weeks if you are self-employed). The amount of money paid to you each week will depend on your earnings. If you are already on certain social welfare payments then you will get half-rate Maternity Benefit.
Maternity Benefit is paid directly to you on a weekly basis into your bank or building society account. Some employers will continue to pay an employee, in full, while she is on maternity leave and require her to have any Maternity Benefit paid to them. You should check your contract of employment to see what applies to you. Maternity Benefit is a tax-free payment. Revenue will inform you how Maternity Benefit is treated for tax purposes.
If you think you have been wrongly refused Maternity Benefit or you are unhappy about a decision of a Social Welfare Deciding Officer about your entitlements, you can appeal that decision.
How the amount of Maternity Benefit is calculated?
If you are employed, your weekly rate of Maternity Benefit is calculated by dividing your gross income in the relevant tax year by the number of weeks you actually worked in that year. Eighty percent (80%) of this amount is payable weekly, subject to a minimum payment and a maximum payment.
(The Relevant Tax Year is the second last complete income tax year before the year in which your maternity leave starts. The Benefit Year begins on the first Monday of each year and ends on the Sunday immediately before the first Monday of the following year.)
If you are self-employed, your weekly rate of Maternity Benefit is calculated by dividing your gross income in the relevant tax year by 52 weeks - 80% of this amount is payable weekly, subject to a minimum payment and a maximum payment. Rates of payment from January 2010:
Maternity Benefit Weekly rate
Maximum payment €270
Minimum payment €225.80
How does one certify leave with their employer?
All employees must have their leave certified by their employer. However, if your contract of employment ends within 16 weeks of your expected date of confinement and you satisfy the social insurance (PRSI) conditions, Maternity Benefit is payable from the day after the date on your P45
Has there been changes in the rate since the Budget in 2010?
There was a reduction of €4.50 in the minimum rate and €10 in the maximum rate of Maternity and Adoptive Benefit (January 2010).
What is the length of time length of time Maternity Benefit is paid?
Maternity Benefit is paid for 26 weeks. At least 2 weeks and not more than 16 weeks leave must be taken before the end of the week in which your baby is due.
If your baby is born later than expected and you have less than 4 weeks maternity leave left, you may be entitled to extend your maternity leave to ensure that you have a full 4 weeks off following the week of the birth.
In these circumstances Maternity Benefit will continue to be paid to you until the baby is 4 weeks old. You need to notify the Maternity Benefit Section of the Department of Social and Family Affairs by sending them a letter from your GP stating the date on which your baby was born.
You can take a further 16 weeks unpaid Maternity Leave. This period is not covered by Maternity Benefit but you will be entitled to a credited social insurance contributor for each week of unpaid leave you take (up to the maximum of 16).
How is the payment is made?
Maternity Benefit is paid directly into your bank or building society account (this is known as a direct payment). Payment is made each week in advance.
Is maternity benefit taxable?
Maternity Benefit is not regarded as taxable income and is disregarded for all tax purposes (including levies, income tax and PRSI). Your employer may top up your Maternity Benefit payment while you are on leave and in this case any extra payment on top of the Maternity Benefit is taxable.
In most cases when a woman's maternity leave is being topped up, the employer deducts the State payment from the employee's salary and pays the remainder, which is taxable, as normal.
However some employers may pay a full salary to employees who are out on maternity leave and recover the Maternity Benefit from the employees or directly from the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
In this case they may deduct the usual amount of income tax, levies and PRSI from your salary while you are on maternity leave. If this happened you may be due a repayment of the extra tax and PRSI paid.
If your employer does not top up your Maternity Benefit at all your weekly/monthly tax credits will accumulate for the period of your maternity leave and you may be due a refund of the tax that you have already paid in that tax year.
What happens if there is a premature birth?
If your baby is born prematurely (before your maternity leave is due to begin), you should send a letter from your doctor to the Maternity Benefit section of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The letter should confirm the date the baby was born and that the baby was born prematurely.
What happens if they're multiple births?
If you had a multiple birth you will be entitled to a special grant at the time of birth and again when the children are 4 and 12 years old. Child Benefit is paid at one and a half times the monthly rate for twins, and at double the monthly rate for triplets and other multiple births.
In addition, a special 'once-off' grant of €635 is paid on all multiple births. Further 'once-off' grants of €635 are paid when the children are 4 years of age and 12 years of age.
What happens in the event of a stillbirth or miscarriage?
If you have a stillbirth or miscarriage anytime after the 24th week of pregnancy you are entitled to 26 weeks maternity leave, you are entitled to 26 weeks Maternity Benefit provided you have satisfied the social insurance (PRSI) requirements.
To apply for Maternity Benefit following a stillbirth, you need to send a letter from your doctor with the Maternity Benefit application form, confirming the expected date of birth, the actual date of birth and the number of weeks of pregnancy.
How can one become disqualified from maternity benefit?
You can do voluntary work, public representative work (for example, a councillor or TD) and courses of education while you are getting Maternity Benefit. However, your payment will be stopped if you engage in insurable (paid) employment.
If you intend to return to employment earlier than you stated on your application form, you must notify Maternity Benefit Section at least 2 weeks before your new 'return to work date'.
What about women who worked but gave up before becoming pregnant?
They are not entitled to maternity benefit. If they are on Jobseekers benefit or allowance they may continue to get this payment as long as they remain qualified to receive it.
What about women who work part-time?
Part-time workers are entitled to the same conditions as full time workers with regard to maternity leave and benefit.
Case Study 1:-
Ann is self employed. She is paying an S contribution since January 2009 and prior to that she was claiming Jobseekers Benefit for 11 months. Her baby is due on the 6th June 2010.
Will she qualify for Maternity Benefit? How much will she receive?
Ann will qualify because she has 52 - S contributions paid in 2009.
How much Ann gets will depend on her earnings in 2008. She will get 80% of that subject to a minimum payment of €230.30 and a Maximum of €280.
As she was on Jobseekers benefit for 11 months in 2008. we will take her average weekly earnings at would have been roughly €204.30, therefore her rate of Maternity Benefit will be €230.30 which is the minimum payment.
€204.30 * 80% = €163.44
Case Study 2:-
Lorraine is due her baby at the end of May this year. She is due to go on Maternity leave from the 6th May, but she is finds that the work is becoming too much for her. She works as a Chef .
What happens if she takes time off now? Is there anything she can claim?
Yes, she may be entitled to claim Health & Safety benefit.
Health and safety benefit can be paid if her employer cannot remove a risk to her health while she is pregnant, or assign her alternative "risk-free" duties.
She must also have the relevant number of paid PRSI contributions.
At lease 13 paid in the 12 month before her baby is due. Her employer will pay for the first 21 days of Health and Safety leave.
Case Study 3:-
Lisa has worked in London for the past 10 years, she came to Ireland to live with her boyfriend in December 09 and is working 2 days a week since January 2010 in a Shop. She is pregnant and her baby is due at the end of March.
Will she be able to claim Maternity Benefit?
She may be. This can be based on her social insurance record in the UK.
As she is working in Ireland and has at least 1 paid contribution in this country she can combine her contributions in Ireland and the UK to help her to qualify. She should send in her claim straight away as they recommend that in these circumstances you should claim 12 weeks before your baby is due.
If her payment doesn't come through in time she can go to the Community Welfare Office and claim a Supplementary Welfare Allowance?
Deirdre's baby was born last September and she is due to go back to work at the end of March. She is claiming maternity benefit now. She has also applied for One Parent Family Payment as she is not married and is not living with the baby's father. Will she get this payment when she returns to work. She only works 3 days a week and earns €190 per week.
Income from work €190
Not assessed for OPFP = €146.50
Assessable income = €44 / 2 = €22
Rate of OPFP = €181.00
Gross income = €371 per week
Family Income supplement = €81
Total income = €452
+ child benefit €150 per month = €34.62 per week