Seanad Éireann - Volume 145 - 20 December, 1995

Adjournment Matters. - Disabled Person's Maintenance Allowance.

Ms O'Sullivan: I am glad to have the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment the matter of disabled person's maintenance allowance and means testing for it. Responsibility for this allowance is being transferred from the Department of Health to the Department of Social Welfare. It is more appropriate that the allowance be dealt with under the auspices of the Department of Social Welfare.

I have been concerned about this matter for some time but I raise it in light of two cases I encountered recently where I felt a person on disabled person's maintenance allowance was particularly hard done by. I am raising the issue because I have been concerned about it for some time, particularly in the light of two cases I came across recently, both of which involve men, one of whom was particularly hard done by with regard to the means test.

When the spouse of one of the men was offered a community employment scheme place, the family was told that it would lose not just the dependent relative allowance and half the children's allowance but the entire DMPA allowance if she accepted the offer. There would have been no financial gain if she took the place on the scheme. This was appealed to the health board. A letter I received from the board on the matter stated that income from the scheme is not included in the DMPA regulations as a social welfare payment and, accordingly, full account must be taken of this income. I felt this was particularly harsh.

[1941] In the other case a man has not been able to work and has been receiving disabled person's maintenance allowance for eight years. He is considering moving in with his girl friend, who is employed. He was told he would lose the entire amount of the allowance if he did so.

People on disabled person's maintenance allowance are obviously not available for work because of disability and they almost always do not qualify for social insurance because they would have been unavailable for work for a considerable time and would not have been able to accumulate contributions. Such people are generally almost totally dependent on disabled person's maintenance allowance and it seems unfair that they cannot keep this allowance if their spouses earn even fairly modest incomes. People can continue to receive other social welfare allowances if they earn modest incomes. This is an anomaly which should be addressed.

Responsibility for disabled person's maintenance allowance is in the process of being transferred from the Department of Health to the Department of Social Welfare but I do not know when this will be completed. The problem should be dealt with by either of these Departments. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg): I thank the Senator for raising this matter. Disabled persons maintenance allowance is the primary income support operated by the Department of Health for people who, because of their disability, cannot work and are not in a position to maintain themselves in the community.

Under section 69 of the Health Act, 1970, and the regulations made thereunder, health boards, in assessing eligibility for disabled person's maintenance allowance, are obliged to have regard to the means of both the applicant and his or her spouse. A disabled person's maintenance allowance recipient is entitled to earn £34.10 in rehabilitative [1942] training or employment without affecting his or her entitlement to disabled person's maintenance allowance.

The Minister for Health is aware of difference between the assessment of means for disabled person's maintenance allowance and for social assistance schemes under the Department of Social Welfare. Some of these are more favourable to disabled person's maintenance allowance applicants, most notably in the means assessment of people with a disability living at home where the value of board and lodgings is not taken into account. This is a major benefit to disabled person's maintenance allowance recipients living with their parents or relatives and is designed to encourage their maintenance at home, thereby facilitating their full integration into the community. In contrast the value of board and lodgings is taken into account in assessing eligibility for unemployment assistance.

However, the spouse of a social welfare recipient on unemployment assistance is entitled to earn up to £55 per week, including travelling expenses of £10 per week, without affecting entitlement to this allowance. There is no similar provision under the disabled person's maintenance allowance regulations. It is accepted that, at present, this operates to the disadvantage of disabled person's maintenance allowance recipients. This is the main point made by the Senator.

Responsibility for the disabled person's maintenance allowance is in the process of being transferred to the Department of Social Welfare. That Department took over responsibility for the funding of disabled person's maintenance allowance on 1 August 1995 and it is expected that responsibility for the administration of disabled person's maintenance allowance will transfer to it in early 1996 so that it will be responsible for all income maintenance payments.

The Minister has no plans to change the existing regulations pending this transfer but, in the context of the integration of the disabled person's maintenance [1943] allowance scheme with social welfare allowances generally, it is expected that this and other anomalies will be examined by the Minister for Social Welfare.

The Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities is currently examining income support as part of its wide remit covering all aspects of services and supports to people with disabilities. The commission has conducted a nationwide series of “listening meetings” and has received over 3,000 pages of submissions. These show clearly the concerns of people with disabilities, their relatives and carers. Income support was one of the issues identified as requiring improvement.

The commission is expected to report in April 1996. Given its wide remit, the commission's recommendations will have a significant bearing on the development of future policy for people with disabilities, including the provision of income support services. Accordingly, any change in policy in regard to income maintenance for people with disabilities will be a matter for consideration by the Department of Social Welfare in the light of the commission's recommendations.