Dáil Éireann - Volume 545 - 27 November, 2001

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Programmes.

264. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will investigate the guidelines regarding rent subsidy to ensure that such guidelines take account of the payment of maintenance to persons and that such maintenance payments should not be included as means in assessing the rent subsidy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29648/01]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The supplementary welfare allowance scheme provides for a weekly or monthly supplement to be paid in respect of rent or mortgage interest to any person in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs. The scheme is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards and neither I nor my Department has any function in deciding entitlement in individual cases.

SWA is subject to a means test. Rent supplements are normally calculated to ensure that the household, after the payment of rent, has an income equal to the rate of supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to their family circum[258] stances, less £6, 7.62. This £6, 7.62, represents the minimum contribution which recipients are required to pay from their own resources. Most recipients pay more than £6, 7.62, towards their rent because applicants are required to contribute any additional assessable means that they have over and above the appropriate basic SWA rate towards their rent.

In cases where maintenance payments are made, the first £75 per week of maintenance is regarded as being towards housing costs. One result is that a person in receipt of one parent family payment or OFP can receive up to a maximum of £75 per week maintenance for mortgage-rental costs without affecting the rate of OFP payable. Another consequence is that their housing costs for rent supplement purposes are the total amount of rent less maintenance payments of up to £75 per week. Prior to the last budget, any additional maintenance over and above £75 per week would reduce the amount of OFP payable on a £1 for £1 basis. Following the budget, recipients are now allowed to retain 50% of any maintenance received over and above the £75 allowed in respect of mortgage/rental costs. The rate of OFP is now only reduced by 50p per £1 in such cases, instead of the £1 for £1 reduction that previously applied.

Consequently, a higher rate of OFP is paid than has been the case up to now and this would ordinarily lead to a reduction in the rate of rent supplement payable to a person in this situation. In order to address the position relating to the £1 for £1 clawback of rent supplement I introduced a new disregard in the means test for rent supplement. A disregard of up to £25 can be allowed in respect of any increase in OFP payments arising from this change in the assessment of maintenance in the OFP means test.

I recognise that these arrangements are complex but, unfortunately, this is necessarily so given the complexity of situations in which maintenance payments are made. However, the means test calculation for rent and mortgage interest supplement will be examined as part of the review of the SWA scheme which is currently being undertaken as part of my Department's series of formal programme evaluations. Any proposals for changes in this area would have to be considered in a budgetary context. As the Deputy will appreciate I cannot, at this point, give specific details of any proposed changes in this area in the forthcoming budget.