Dáil Éireann - Volume 526 - 28 November, 2000
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Crawford Mr. Crawford
337. Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans the planning and policy office in his Department has to extend the free schemes, such as electricity, telephone and television licence allowances, to widows and widowers whose spouse had the allowance and who are now disqualified due to a family member coming to reside in the household; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27608/00]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The free travel scheme is available to all people resident in the State  aged 66 years or over. The other free schemes, including the free electricity-gas allowance, free telephone rental allowance and free television licence schemes, are generally available to people living in the State, aged 66 years or over, who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who pass a means test. They are also available to carers and people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments.
Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the free schemes retain that entitlement provided that prior to the death of the spouse or partner, the couple were permanently residing together and that the survivor continues to meet the normal conditions for eligibility. This is to ensure that households do not suffer a loss of entitlements following the death of a spouse.
The review of the free schemes, which was published by the policy institute, Trinity College Dublin, in April this year, noted that the free schemes share a common set of objectives in the area of social inclusion. These are defined as: to provide assistance to those living alone by targeting them with specific benefits providing both income and social inclusion gains; to support older people and people with disabilities in their wish to remain in the community as opposed to institutional care; to support Government policy which seeks to acknowledge the value of older people in society.
The review of the free schemes examined the many demands to extend the free schemes to other groups, including widows and widowers using social inclusion objectives as the criteria for decision. It considered that the schemes as currently constituted provide a basic package that ensures a limited standard of comfort or well-being to a particular targeted group, that is based on age or disability.
Widows or widowers who are not living alone may experience social exclusion but they are not groups in need of community care support nor do they experience the same physical risks of isolation as older people and people with disabilities.
The review noted that, where payment levels are adequate, any extension of the free schemes must be based solely on increased social benefits that are over and above those which can be purchased by increased income. Accordingly, the review concluded that the schemes should not be extended further to additional groups of people or to include other types of schemes. Overall the proposals in the review are being examined in the context of future budgets and available resources.
Question No. 338 taken with Question No. 227.
Dáil Éireann 526 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.