Having been contacted by a constituent who was denied maternity benefit because her child was born in week 17 of this year, Fine Gael senator Colm Burke contacted the maternity benefit section of the Department of Social Protection to query the decision.
It is estimated that there will be a weekly average of 22,000 recipients of maternity benefit this year, at a cost of €263.5m.
However, regulations being applied mean that self-employed women who have their child in the first 16 weeks of the years can base their application on their earnings for the previous year — whereas those whose children are born in the 17th week and after can only base their application on earnings made in the calendar year to date.
“The current rules which apply to women who are self-employed, however, is totally unjust, in particular to those where the baby is born after April 22 in any year,” Mr Burke said.
Maternity benefit is paid for 26 weeks to employed and self-employed pregnant women who satisfy certain PRSI contribution conditions on their own insurance record.
Mr Burke said: “It would appear that the Department of Social Welfare are interpreting the current regulations and legislation which is barring people from claiming benefit after that date.
“If the baby is born in the first 16 weeks of the year they can use the previous year’s income and PRSI contributions to establish their entitlement to maternity benefit. If the baby is born after the 22nd they have to use the current year’s income and PRSI contributions.
“The benefit will only be paid once the claimant has established their earnings for the current year and in many cases this is not possible until the end of the year, therefore they can only claim the benefit eight to nine months after the baby is born.”
He added: “I have written to the Minister for Social Protection requesting that the current rules would be altered in order to accommodate all self-employed women by allowing them to use the previous year’s income and PRSI contributions as the basis for establishing their entitlement to maternity benefit.”
According to the Department of Social Protection: “Each claim for maternity benefit is processed on a case by case basis to ensure that every person who has an entitlement under legislation receives payment.
“Where a claimant has an expected due date within the first 16 weeks of the year, they may satisfy the insurable self-employment status by using either the current year or previous year’s income and PRSI contributions, where the first week of the 16-week period spans more than one tax year.
“This means that earnings in the previous year, if greater than €5,000, can be used as confirmation of insurable status.”