Dáil Éireann - Volume 584 - 28 April, 2004
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Crowe Mr. Crowe
83. Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress she has made in recent months to address the problem of fuel poverty. [11947/04]
Aengus Ó Snodaigh Aengus Ó Snodaigh
95. Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent of the fuel poverty problem in the State. [11952/04]
Mr. Kehoe Mr. Kehoe
99. Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the numbers currently receiving fuel allowance; and the annual cost for each of the years from 1997 to 2003. [12171/04]
Mr. Rabbitte Mr. Rabbitte
105. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has plans to extend the period during which the fuel allowance is awarded, in view of the fact that low temperatures can be experienced outside of the October to March period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12061/04]
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
 Mary Coughlan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 83, 95, 99 and 105 together.
My Department provides financial supports 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 own heating needs. A fuel allowance payment of €9 per week is paid to eligible households, with an additional €3.90 per week being 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 from the end of September to mid-April. The fuel allowances represent a contribution towards a person’s normal heating expenses. In addition, many households also qualify for electricity and gas allowances. The question of increases in the rates of fuel allowance or an extension of the fuel allowance season is a matter for consideration in a budgetary context.
The number of households receiving fuel allowances in the period 1997 to 2004 has ranged from 258,000 to almost 287,000. At present, approximately 270,000 households receive fuel allowances. Expenditure on fuel allowances has risen from €57 million in 1997 to an expected €84 million this year. Details of the numbers receiving fuel allowance and the annual cost for each of the years from 1997 to 2004 are set out in a tabular statement which I will make available to the Deputy.
The extent to which people on social welfare can afford fuel is kept under review in my Department. The objective of social welfare provision in this regard is to ensure that the combined value of weekly social welfare payments and fuel allowances rises in real terms, after compensating people for inflation, including fuel price inflation. Significant increases in recent years in primary social welfare payment rates, such as the old age pension, have 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; hence increases in these rates benefit a wide range of recipients.
Giving people a real increase in their primary payment for 52 weeks of the year is a more expensive option than increasing the fuel allowance payment rate for part of the year or extending the period during which fuel allowances are paid. However, I believe it is the correct approach to take as it gives people greater flexibility in meeting their needs. That, coupled with programmes to improve the fuel efficiency of the housing stock, will bring about the reduction in poverty levels, including fuel poverty levels, that I am working to achieve. In that regard, my Department is currently in discussion with Sustainable Energy Ireland and the Combat Poverty Agency with a view to planning a fuel poverty project. It is proposed to carry out an action research project in designated  geographical areas where eligible persons will have an energy audit carried out in their homes.
The energy audit will include energy advice to the household as well as minor remedial work such as the installation of roof space insulation, draft proofing, fitting of hot water cylinder lagging jackets and energy efficient light bulbs. The project proposes to target persons over 65 years and long term disabled persons, who are in receipt of a fuel allowance from my Department. The project will evaluate the effects of the measures undertaken from the point of view of comfort levels and health effects, as well as changes in fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions. This research is not intended to measure the full extent of fuel poverty but it may give some indications in that regard.
Dáil Éireann 584 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.