Dáil Éireann - Volume 456 - 10 October, 1995

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Allowances.

[1523] 137. Mr. Clohessy asked the Minister for Social Welfare the legal entitlement of non-nationals to supplementary welfare allowance; if he will confirm that health boards are entitled to seek evidence of work permits from persons residing in this State for more than 13 weeks; and if he will make a statement on such persons' entitlement to supplementary welfare allowance generally. [14288/95]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): Under section 171 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993 “every person in the State whose means are insufficient to meet his needs and the needs of any adult or child dependant of his shall be entitled to supplementary welfare allowance”. Thus, non-nationals, including asylum seekers, may be eligible for assistance under the SWA scheme depending on their circumstances.

Applications for supplementary welfare allowance are determined by the health boards and under Article 10 of the Social Welfare (Supplementary Welfare Allowance), Regulations of 1977, a health board may ask applicants to furnish any documentation that the health board requires in order to determine the claim.

Although it is not necessary for non-nationals to have a work permit in order to claim SWA, such evidence may be sought in order to establish whether the applicant may have an entitlement to unemployment benefit (UB) or unemployment assistance (UA).

Where the right of entry to and residence in the State is based on the non-national being self sufficient, there are arrangements in place whereby the health board may refer the applicant to the Department of Justice if a claim is made for assistance under the SWA scheme, to ensure that that Department is aware that such non-nationals are not satisfying the “self sufficiency” requirement.

In the case of those seeking asylum, [1524] identity cards were issued by the Department of Justice to asylum seekers from August 1995. Any asylum seekers who apply to the health board for assistance under the SWA scheme and who do not possess this identity card are referred to the Department of Justice.

138. Mr. O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Welfare his views on whether the present rate of national fuel allowance is adequate in view of the fact that it has never been increased since its introduction; and the plans, if any, he has to increase it. [14327/95]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are on long term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide for their own heating needs.

In 1988 the national fuel scheme was amalgamated with the urban fuel scheme to form one single fuel scheme. In recognition of the fact that it can be unpredictably cold in Autumn and Spring, the scheme is not confined to the winter months but runs for six months of the year, from mid-October to mid-April. The 1995-96 scheme will run from Monday, 16 October 1995 to Friday, 12 April 1996.

An additional smokeless fuel allowance of £3 per week was introduced in October 1990 to assist people living in the built up areas of Dublin to help meet the additional costs arising from the ban on the sale of bituminous coal in these areas. This allowance was extended to cover the Cork city and adjacent areas to coincide with the ban on the sale of bituminous coal which came into effect there on 13 February 1995. In October 1994 an estimated 2,000 additional people benefited from the weekly fuel allowance when the national fuel scheme was extended to include recipients of disabled persons rehabilitation allowance.

Expenditure on the national fuel scheme has increased by almost 54 per cent in the last five years from £26 million in 1989 to £40 million in 1994. This [1525] year a sum of £44.5 million has been set aside in the estimates for the scheme. This includes an amount for the increase in the income limits from £5 to £10 which I announced in this year's budget.

Any increase in the rate of the fuel allowance would have to be considered in light of the modest increase in domestic fuel prices since the current rate of the fuel allowance was fixed. In addition, increasing the level of the allowance would have financial implications. The estimated annual cost for every £1 increase is nearly £10 million. Any increase in the allowance could only be considered in a budgetary context. However, it is my intention to undertake a review of the scheme to ensure that it is operating effectively and equitably. This review will commence at the earliest possible date.

Although the national fuel scheme is relatively inflexible and is only paid for a fixed period, there is a facility available through the supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme to assist people in certain circumstances who have special heating needs. Under that scheme a person who may have exceptional heating costs due to ill health or infirmity may qualify for a heating allowance. An application for a heating allowance may be made by contacting a community welfare officer at the local health centre.

Also under the SWA scheme, a health board may make a single payment to meet an exceptional need. These payments are made on a once-off basis and may provide assistance towards expenses such as exceptional heating costs. Eligible people would normally be in receipt of a social welfare or health board payment and each case is decided on its merits by the health board. As before, an application for assistance may be made by contacting the local community welfare officer.

139. Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Welfare the plans, if any, he has to change the system of means [1526] testing for applicants for disabled person's maintenance allowance from a notional system to a factual system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14362/95]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): When the disabled person's maintenance scheme is transferred from health boards to my Department I will examine all aspects of the scheme to see what changes are necessary or warranted. In this connection I will also take account of any recommendations emerging from the work of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities.

The first step in the process of transferring responsibility for the scheme was taken when responsibility for funding the health boards in respect of disabled persons maintenance allowance expenditure was transferred to my Department with effect from 1 August 1995.

The legislative basis for transferring the administration of the scheme will be contained in legislation to be introduced in this Dáil session. It is my intention that the scheme will begin to be directly administered by my Department in early 1996 following the enactment of that legislation.

The transfer process is a complex one given the task of adapting what are in effect eight different administrative systems to produce one system. There is considerable detail to be addressed in the arrangements for this transfer and the operation of the means assessment will be considered as part of the process.

I am confident that the transfer of the disabled persons maintenance allowance scheme to my Department will improve the existing arrangements for people with disabilities and my intention is to ensure that the new arrangements provide a more consistent and streamlined service.