There are no plans to change the current criteria for accessing Farm Sssist applications, according to the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton.

In response to a parliamentary question she said as part of the normal budget process, all potential budget measures, including any proposed changes to the Farm Assist scheme, are assessed in terms of the impact they would have.

“My officials keep the scheme under ongoing review, including having regular discussions with the IFA. There are no plans to change the current scheme criteria,” she said.

The Farm Assist scheme provides support for farmers on low incomes and is similar to jobseeker’s allowance.

According to Minister Burton, Farm Assist recipients retain the advantages of the jobseeker’s allowance scheme such as retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes.

She also said the 2015 Revised Estimates for the Department provide for expenditure of almost €89m on the Farm Assist scheme in 2015.

According to the Minister changes introduced in Budgets 2012 and 2013 have brought farm assist into closer alignment with the jobseeker’s allowance scheme’s treatment of self-employed persons.

She said farm families with the lowest income will be least affected by these changes as the headline rates of farm assist have been maintained.

“The assessment of means for the purpose of qualifying for farm assist is designed to reflect the actual net income from farming. Income and expenditure figures for the preceding year are generally used as an indicator of the expected position in the following year.

“Account is taken of any exceptional circumstances so as to ensure that the assessment accurately reflects the current situation. Any farmer experiencing lower levels of income can ask for a review of their means,” she said.