Dáil Éireann - Volume 443 - 14 June, 1994

Written Answers. - Free Telephone Rental Allowance.

60. Mr. Nealon asked the Minister for Social Welfare if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties being experienced by many elderly people in maintaining the payments for their phones or in having phones installed in view of the fact that the present regulations prevent payment of a free telephone rental allowance in the case of a married old age pensioner irrespective of his or her age if his or her spouse is under the age of 66 and in theory capable of getting help in an emergency; his views on whether this creates hardship for many couples in such a situation with limited means and perhaps living in lonely or isolated places and who must have a phone for their own peace of mind in case of illness or any other sort of emergency; if, in view of all these considerations, he will make a free telephone rental allowance available to such people who would otherwise qualify; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Social Welfare (Dr. Woods): A free telephone rental allowance is available only to people who are in receipt of certain social welfare type payments and who are either living alone or only with children or persons who are so incapacitated that they could not get help in an emergency. The number of people getting the allowance at present is about 114,000 at an annual cost of some £20 million.

In the normal course, an old age pensioner living with a spouse does not qualify for the free telephone rental allowance unless the spouse is so incapacitated as to be unable to get help in an emergency. However, I am introducing two improvements in that regard from the beginning of next month. First, a pensioner being cared for by a recipient [1493] of a carer's allowance will be able to retain the free telephone rental allowance. Secondly, pensioners aged 75 years and over will qualify for the free telephone rental allowance even if they have a spouse or another adult living with them. Any extension of this concession to pensioners under 75 years of age would have financial implications and could only be considered in a budgetary context.