Dáil Éireann - Volume 569 - 26 June, 2003
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Sargent Mr. Sargent
55. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the cost of secondary benefits made available through her Department for each category of social welfare payment. [17898/03]
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): The secondary benefits payable by my Department to certain categories of social welfare recipients, include free travel and fuel allowance and the household benefits package, which comprises the electricity-gas allowance, free television licence and telephone allowance. These are generally available to pensioners aged over 66 resident in the State in receipt of a qualifying payment who are living alone or only with certain excepted categories of people. They are also available to carers and people with disabilities under age 66 in receipt of certain social welfare-type payments who satisfy the qualifying criteria. Since May 2001 they are available to all those aged over 70 residing in the State regardless of income or household composition. People aged 66 to 69 who do not receive a qualifying payment may have an entitlement to the household benefits package if they satisfy a means test and other qualifying criteria.
Free travel is available to all those aged over 66 permanently residing in the State and to certain incapacitated people under 66. The fuel allowance applies to persons in receipt of long-term social welfare payments and who are unable to provide for their own heating needs. In order to be eligible, a person must be living alone or with people who come within certain categories and must also satisfy a means test. The free travel scheme provision for 2003 is €47 million; €87.20 million for fuel allowances, electricity-gas allowance, €68.45 million; free television licence scheme, €32.96 million; and telephone allowance €80.39 million. All of these secondary benefits are paid by way of benefit-in-kind to the customer, except for the fuel allowance which is paid by way of an additional cash amount with his weekly social welfare payment.
Statistics are not available immediately on the numbers in each social welfare payment category who are in receipt of the various secondary benefits. The necessary information is being compiled and when available will be forwarded separately to the Deputy.
Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 10.
Ms Enright Ms Enright
57. Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will review the fuel allowance which is totally inadequate and, due to recent increases in fuel costs, has become even more inadequate to meet the needs of those who rely on it. [18078/03]
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): The purpose of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide fully for their heating needs. A fuel allowance of €9.00 per week is paid to eligible households while an additional €3.90 per week is paid in smokeless zones, bringing the total amount in those areas to €12.90 per week. These payments are made for the duration of the fuel season which lasts for 29 weeks.
The fuel allowances represent a contribution towards a person's normal heating expenses. They are not intended to meet the full cost. I would also point out that fuel allowances are not the sole mechanism through which assistance is provided to people with heating needs. Many households also qualify for electricity and gas allowances. In addition there is a facility available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to assist people in certain circumstances who have special heating needs. Improvements have been made to the fuel allowance scheme in recent budgets. The means test has been eased and the duration of payment has been increased from 26 weeks to 29 weeks.
The cost of the national fuel scheme in 2002 was €80.5 million, of which €67.5 million was spent on fuel allowances and €13 million on smokeless fuel allowances. The ban on bituminous coal sales will be extended later this year to include Bray, Kilkenny, Sligo and Tralee at a cost to the scheme of €356,000 in 2003 and €860,000 in a full year. The significant increases in recent years in primary social welfare payment rates, such as the old age pension, have also improved the income position for people dependent on the social welfare system. Primary payment rates are payable for the full 52 weeks of the year and increases in these rates benefit a wider range of recipients. The question of further increases in the rates of fuel allowance or an extension of the fuel allowance season is a matter for consideration in a budgetary context.
Dáil Éireann 569 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.