Dáil Éireann - Volume 459 - 07 December, 1995

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

89. Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will consider allowing recipients of long-term disability benefit, over 12 months, to qualify for additional social welfare benefits, such as free fuel, electricity, TV licence and telephone rental; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18423/95]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The free schemes administered by my Department are free travel, free electricity allowance, free natural gas allowance, free telephone rental allowance and free television licence.

A fuel allowance, which is normally paid as part of a weekly payment, is payable to people on a long-term social welfare payment, health board payment or similar payment who live alone, or only with certain excepted people, and who are unable to provide for their own heating needs.

Free travel is available to all persons resident in the State aged 66 years or over and also to certain disabled people under the age of 66. The other free schemes are available to people, usually aged 66 or over, who are in receipt of a welfare type payment and who are either living alone or who otherwise satisfy the living alone condition. In addition, widows between the age of 60 and 65 whose late husbands had entitlement to the free schemes retain that entitlement notwithstanding their age.

In cases where the long-term sick qualify for invalidity pension, they may then be in a position to avail of the free schemes.

Any further extension of the free [1003] schemes would have financial implications which could only be considered in the light of available resources.

90. Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will review the dental benefit scheme in order to allow payment of at least 75 per cent of the full cost and to extend optical benefit to children of eligible categories; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18424/95]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias de Rossa): Dental and optical benefits form part of the treatment benefit scheme which provides a range of benefits in the areas of dental, optical and aural treatment for qualified PRSI contributors and their dependent spouses.

As regards dental benefit, an examination and scale and polish is available free of charge to the qualified claimant. In the case of fillings and extractions, my Department pays 70 per cent of the agreed fee in accordance with the scale of fees negotiated on behalf of dentists operating the scheme and the claimant pays the balance. An agreed fee also applies in the case of dentures with the claimant and my Department each paying 50 per cent. For other treatments, my Department pays a fixed contribution towards the cost and the claimant is liable for the balance charged by the dentist. I have no plans at the present time to change the respective proportions of fees paid by my Department and qualified PRSI contributors towards the cost of treatment under the scheme.

Under the optical benefit scheme, the qualified claimant can get free of charge an eye examination together with a pair of spectacles from a limited range of frames. Where a more expensive frame is chosen, my Department pays a fixed contribution with the claimant paying the balance. I have no plans to extend the optical benefit scheme to include the [1004] dependent children of qualified PRSI contributors. The Deputy will be aware that, under the Health Act, 1970, optical care is available to pre-school children, national school children and children who are dependants of medical card holders.