Karen Walsh: No contributory state pension shock for many farmers’ wives

If you worked in partnership with your husband for years, but no formal arrangement was in place, you can apply to have the partnership recognised retrospectively and hopefully qualify for social insurance cover.

Thirty-five years ago, you fell madly in love with a farmer, and he was lucky enough to have your hand in marriage.

You raised four children together. You gave up work, as there was simply too much to do around the farm, and you farmed the land alongside your husband.

Life was good. Life was busy and the years flew by. You are now nearing retirement age.

After all the hard work and sweat, you are shocked to learn that you are not recognised in terms of entitlement to any contributory state pension by the Department of Social Protection.

You never gave much thought to PRSI contributions before; now, all of a sudden, they have become hugely significant to you.

Persons aged between 16 and 66 are required to pay social insurance (PRSI) contributions if they are an employee, full-time or part-time, or self-employed with an annual income from all sources of €3,174 or more. In return, they are covered for a contributory, non-means-tested pension, and other social insurance benefits.

Many farmers’ wives gave up employment or were forced to give up employment after marriage.

This is now causing significant difficulties later in life, particularly at pension age.

Under the rules of social insurance, a person who is employed by his or her spouse, or is assisting his or her spouse, but is not a partner in the business, is excluded from social insurance cover.

Such a person does not have a contributory pension or other social insurance benefits in their own right, for example, a wife assisting on the family farm where the husband has PRSI cover is treated for PRSI pension purposes as a qualifying adult.

She qualifies for an increase for a qualified adult, or IQA, as part of her husband’s pension.

However, the IQA is a means tested pension based on her income and/or assets.

If you have been working in partnership with your husband for years, but no formal arrangement was in place, what can you do now to have your contribution recognised?

1.

Apply to the Department of Social Protection under the Farm Spouses Scheme to have your PRSI record amended.

2.

Lodge all supporting documentation and affidavits evidencing that you were in partnership with your husband.

3.

Furnish the department with evidence of joint farm bank accounts, joint names on herd numbers, and affidavits from people who are in a position to confirm that you were in partnership with your husband.

4.

If there is a written partnership agreement, give this to the department.

5.

Lodge anything that you deem relevant to show that you worked in partnership with your husband on the farm.

The criteria used by the Department of Social Protection for determining whether a partnership exists are as follows:

* There is a written partnership agreement.

* Each partner writes cheques on the business accounts in his/her own right

* There is a joint business account number.

* It is apparent to those doing business with the partnership that a partnership exists.

* Business accounts/activities are in joint names of partners.

* Each partner makes a significant contribution to the running of the business.

* The business is owned jointly by the partnership (the farm does not have to be jointly owned, although it is a positive factor where it is jointly owned).

* The profits and losses of the partnership are shared by each partner.

You are essentially applying to have the partnership recognised retrospectively.

What happens after you have lodged a claim with the Department of Social Protection?

1.

An investigating officer will visit and meet with you on the farm. You will be notified of the date and time of the visit, and you should have all relevant information to hand to support your case.

2.

The Department of Social Protection will use the above factors to decide if a partnership exists.

3.

The investigation officer will then submit an application to the Department of Social Protection for a decision.

4.

A deciding officer will look at the facts of your case and advise you on your status.

5.

Appeals against decisions made to the social welfare appeals within 21 days of the notification of decision of the deciding officer.

There may be legal and financial implications to entering into a business partnership arrangement with a person’s spouse. Couples who are considering a business partnership are strongly urged to seek both legal and financial advice before approaching the Department of Social Protection.

This is mostly a women’s rights issue. Many farmers would not be in a position to farm without the help, commitment and dedication of their wives and daughters. All farmers are equal, but it would seem that some farmers are more equal than others.

Behind every good man is a good woman. Men should have their rights and nothing more. Women should have their rights and nothing less.

Equal work deserves equal pay and benefits. Stand up for your rights, ladies!


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