Dáil Éireann - Volume 470 - 30 October, 1996

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

222. Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he intends to extend entitlement to dietary allowance to full-time students in view of the cost burden on students who have special dietary requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19820/96]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): Under the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993, every person in the State, whose means are insufficient to meet his or her needs and the needs of any adult or child dependant, has an entitlement to supplementary welfare allowance, SWA.

People in full-time education, full-time employment and those involved in a trade dispute are generally excluded from receiving assistance under the SWA scheme.

The legislation provides for a number of exemptions to these excluded categories and students participating in a vocational training opportunities scheme, a second level initiative scheme, a third level allowance scheme, and a part-time education initiative scheme may continue to receive their full weekly social welfare payments and retain any secondary benefits, such as diet supplements under the [1565] SWA scheme, which they may have been receiving prior to their participation on one of these schemes.

The definition of a qualified child has been extended, for the purposes of diet supplements, to include children between 18-22 years of age in full-time education who are dependent on their parents. Such child dependants are treated as adults for the purpose of calculating the amount of diet supplement to be paid.

The amount of supplement paid in respect of an adult or child dependant between the ages of 18 and 22 is either £27 or £35, depending on the type of diet, less a proportion of the applicant's weekly income. The amount of any benefit or assistance paid in respect of a child dependant is not assessed as income when calculating a diet supplement in respect of an adult.

Entitlement to a diet supplement is determined by the health boards under the provisions of S.I. 382 of 1995, as amended by S.I. 190 of 1996, which specifies the medical conditions in respect of which a diet supplement may be paid. The main considerations in determining entitlement to a diet supplement are the type of diet prescribed, the household income and whether the person in respect of whom the diet supplement is payable is an adult or a child.

A person, eligible for SWA, who wishes to apply for a diet supplement on behalf of a child dependant should contact the community welfare officer at his or her local health centre.

Any further extension of the scheme would have financial implications and could only be considered in a budgetary context.

223. Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Welfare when an application for a lone parent's allowance from a person (details supplied) in County Galway will be decided on. [19821/96]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The person concerned applied for a lone parent's allowance in early September. A local officer of the Department interviewed the person concerned on 20 September 1996. To facilitate the completion of inquiries, some additional information regarding the breakup of her marriage has been requested from her solicitor. As soon as this information is received, her entitlement to this allowance will be determined and she will be notified of the outcome without delay.

224. Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Welfare the rate of payment to which a couple, who are both entitled to a disabled person's maintenance allowance and are without any other means, are entitled to; the rate of payment to which a couple, also without means, where one is on invalidity pension and the other is in receipt of disabled person's maintenance allowance, are entitled to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19823/96]

[1566] Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The disabled person's maintenance allowance — DPMA — was transferred to my Department on 2 October 1996 and renamed disability allowance. Regulations made in May 1996 provided that where a couple were both entitled to disabled person's maintenance allowance and had no other means, they would each receive a weekly personal rate of £64.50 i.e. a total payment of £129. This provision was made following a High Court judgment in July 1995 which found that the articles in the disabled person's maintenance allowance regulations which limited the amount payable to a married couple who were both eligible for disabled person's maintenance allowance to be ultra vires.

Similar provision for the payment of two personal rates of disability allowance in such circumstances is made in the Social Welfare Act, 1996 which gave legislative effect to the transfer of the scheme to my Department.

Where one of the couple is entitled to disability allowance and the other is entitled to invalidity pension and they have no other means, the amount payable is limited to the total amount which would be paid if one of the couple were in receipt of invalidity pension, in this case the higher rate of payment, which would include an increase in respect of the other person as an adult dependant. The amount involved is £109.80.

The issue raised by the Deputy is one of a number being considered in the context of future provisions for people with disabilities. It is open to people in the circumstances outlined to seek a disability allowance where that would be more favourable and the disability allowance conditions are fulfilled.

226. Mr. Crowley asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork has been refused a third level allowance; and if he will reconsider his decision. [19998/96]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The conditions for receipt of third level allowance, postgraduate option, require a person to be in receipt of an unemployment payment for at least six months, attending an approved postgraduate course of education at an approved third level institution and aged 24 years or over at the commencement of the course.

The person concerned commenced a postgraduate course in October 1996. She made her application for third level allowance on 16 September 1996. The application was refused on 23 September 1996 as she will not be 24 years of age until 26 June 1997. The applicant was informed of this decision on 30 September 1996. The person concerned is well outside the age limit for entitlement to the allowance and there are no grounds for revising the original decision in this case.

[1567] 227. Miss Harney asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason the newly introduced grant for twins excludes twins who reached 12 years late in 1995, but starting second level school on 1 September 1996, in view of the fact that these children are only 12 years old; if he will change the criteria for eligibility for this grant to include all twins starting second level schooling on 1 September 1996; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20028/96]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): Child benefit is payable in respect of all children up to age 16 and up to age 19 in respect of children who are in full-time education or physically or mentally handicapped. Child benefit is payable at double the normal rate for each child where three or more children are born together.

In recognition of the significant additional costs involved for parents of twins, I made provision in the 1996 budget for increasing the grant in respect of the birth of twins from £200 to £500 and for the introduction of a new grant of £500 which is payable on the twins reaching the ages of four and 12. While these improvements were announced in the context of this year's budget, they were backdated to apply to all new born twins and those reaching the ages of four and 12, respectively, on or after 1 January 1996. To date, over 1,400 families have benefited at a cost of almost £700,000.

In addition to the improved grants, the monthly rates of child benefit have been increased to £29 for the first two children and £34 for the third and subsequent children. When taken together with the increases provided for in the 1995 budget, these rates represent an increase of 45 per cent in the rate payable for the first two children and 36 per cent in the higher rate payable in respect of other children.

Assistance with back to school expenses is also provided under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered by the health boards and funded by my Department. This year, I increased the back to school clothing and footwear allowance to £43 in respect of children from two to 11 years of age and £58 in respect of qualified children from 12 to 22 years of age. This allowance benefits some 114,000 families with 270,000 children.

I will be considering further improvements in the system of child income support in the context of formulating proposals for next year's budget.