Dáil Éireann - Volume 521 - 13 June, 2000

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

235. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the reason a per[279] son (details supplied) in County Mayo is being refused unemployment assistance, in view of the fact that he has submitted letters to prove that he is genuinely and actively seeking work. [16581/00]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): In the context of a recent review of his entitlements, the person concerned was asked to provide details of his efforts to find work. Based on his response a deciding officer disallowed his claim from 9 February 2000 on the grounds that he was not genuinely seeking work.

The person concerned appealed this decision to the independent appeals office. On 10 May 2000, following an oral appeal hearing, an appeals officer upheld the deciding officer's decision.

An appeals officer's decision is final in the absence of new facts or fresh evidence.

236. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the proposals, if any, he has to extend the free fuel allowance to a year-round basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16593/00]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): 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. A payment of £5 per week or £8 per week in smokeless zones is paid to eligible households for 26 weeks from mid-October to mid-April, regardless of the temperature. As a consequence, there may be a small number of occasions when the allowance is not paid even though temperatures are unseasonably low and equally, the allowance is paid at times when temperatures are above the seasonal norm.

Expenditure on the national fuel scheme has increased by approximately 17% in the last seven years from £37.5 million in 1993 to £44 million in 1999.

Based on the expenditure for the 1999-2000 fuel season, the cost of extending the fuel season by one week would be approximately £1.7 million or £44 million to extend it for the full year. As such an extension to the duration of the scheme would have significant cost implications, this could only be considered in a budgetary context, taking increases in primary weekly payment rates into account. The Deputy will note that the primary weekly payments were increased by either £4 or £7 per week in the most recent budget. I have no plans at this time to extend the fuel season for the full year.

Although the national fuel scheme operates for a fixed period, there is a facility available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to assist people in certain circumstances who have special heating needs at any time of the year. This operates in addition to the national fuel scheme. Under the SWA scheme, a person who has exceptional heating costs due to ill health or infirmity [280] may qualify for a heating supplement. This can be paid as a weekly supplement in addition to other social welfare payments.

An application for a heating supplement may be made by contacting the community welfare officer at the local health centre.