asked the Minister for Health if he will take steps to increase the present inadequate levels of the infectious diseases maintenance allowances; and if he will liberalise the means test at present applied for these allowances.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Infectious Diseases Allowances.
As I presume the Deputy is aware, an infectious diseases maintenance allowance may not be paid unless the person concerned would experience financial hardship in endeavouring to maintain himself and his dependants, if any, during his course of treatment. The health authority must, therefore, have regard to the means of an applicant from other sources in determining what payment should be made. At the same time, where a health authority consider that undue hardship would be caused by adhering strictly to the fixed scale, they have discretion to disregard, in whole or in part, income arising in this way.
Perhaps I should remind the Dáil that the rates of allowance payable have been increased in each of the past three years, the most recent increase taking effect from 1st August, 1964. In addition to the personal allowances, substantial rent and domestic help allowances may be paid in appropriate cases.
I know the local authority have power to increase allowances but could the Minister say for how long the present means test has obtained and whether the means test is determined by the local authority or by the Minister?
There is no means test, other than that which has been in force all the time. If a person would experience financial hardship in endeavouring to maintain himself and his dependants, he would be entitled to secure an allowance.
But did the Minister not refer to a means test?
No, I did not. I said the health authority must have regard to the means of an applicant from other sources in determining what payment should be made. The applicant must show he is not able to bear the expenses himself.
Is there not an absolute means test like that applied in the matter of social welfare benefits?
There is no prescribed means test, any more than there is in the case of medical cards.
Would it be correct then to say that the health authority have absolute discretion?
I suppose one could say they had but they must exercise that discretion in a reasonable way. The Deputy must remember that they have to account ultimately to the ratepayers and to the Local Government auditor.
They can administer this allowance in accordance with their own standards and at their own discretion? They are not handicapped by any means test prescribed by the Minister?
We do not prescribe an absolute figure.
I am glad to hear that, because some local authorities have protested that a means test has been laid down by the Minister and the Department.
Are we talking about the same thing? It may happen in relation to a disabled person's maintenance allowance, which is rather different, that it may be indicated the local authority are to take into consideration any increased income that would be derived from other social services sources.
Would the Minister state if, where a local authority have reduced the allowances of these people, there is any appeal other than to the local authority?
It is not possible for me to discuss such a wide, general question. If the Deputy would be good enough to put down in the form of a question any specific cases he has in mind, I shall be glad to answer him in the House or communicate with him in person. He must put a specific case.
I just want a straight reply to a straight question: can the Minister state whether those people who have been turned down by a local authority can appeal to the Minister for Health?
I would want to have notice of that question. I do not think they can.
Can the Minister state whether in the future some Minister for Health other than he would give the right of appeal to those people?
That is another matter entirely.