Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Fuel Scheme.

14.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the new proposals, if any, he intends to introduce for the improvement of the present fuel voucher scheme.

On 6 August last I announced new measures for the improvement of the fuel schemes and the new arrangements have been in operation since the beginning of October.

The most notable improvement has been the introduction of a new national free fuel scheme for the benefit of persons in all parts of the country who are unable to provide for their heating needs from their own resources. Under the scheme a weekly allowance is payable to eligible persons, normally by way of vouchers which may be used to purchase any type of fuel or to pay gas or electricity bills. In general, those eligible are persons receiving long-term social welfare or health board payments, such as old age and widow pensioners, disabled persons and deserted wives, living either alone or with a dependant or with another person receiving a similar payment. The scheme operates for the 30-week period from October to April.

The urban fuel schemes in 17 cities and towns are continuing and the value of the weekly voucher has been increased by 33? per cent from £1.50 to £2.00, which is also the value of the weekly voucher under the national scheme. Persons who do not qualify under the urban schemes, such as contributory old age pensioners, may benefit under the national scheme if they satisfy the conditions.

Approximately 115,000 pensioners and others will benefit under the fuel schemes this winter at an estimated cost of £7 million.

Is the Minister suggesting that the fuel scheme will operate on a standard basis and that all eligible persons will receive the same benefit now?

I am satisfied the free fuel scheme will operate as laid down by the regulations announced by the Minister some time ago and published by the health boards in the public press.

Will this mean that an eligible person in County Carlow will receive the same benefit as an eligible person in County Galway?

An eligible person in County Carlow will receive a voucher for £2 and an eligible person in County Galway will receive a voucher for £2.

Is the Minister not aware that the Minister for Health has already announced that, because the national scheme which he announced and gave details of is not as beneficial as the scheme already in operation in the Western Health Board area, he has instructed the Western Health Board and any similar boards paying a voucher in excess of his scheme to continue to do so? Is the Minister unaware that the beneficiary in County Carlow will not receive as much benefit under the national fuel scheme as will the beneficiary in Counties Galway, Mayo or Roscommon?

There is a means test for this scheme. As in every other scheme there may be different interpretations by different individuals, but generally all eligible people will qualify.

Is the Minister aware that previously in certain parts of the country beneficiaries were being supplied with a ton of coal, the price of a ton of coal or the price of two tons of turf, approximately £90 and that the national scheme now provides for a payment over a 30-week period of £2 per week which is £60 per annum and consequently certain beneficiaries in areas outside the Western Health Board area will receive only £60 a year whereas people in the Western Health Board area will continue to receive benefit equivalent to approximately £90 per annum.

When a new scheme which is of benefit to the poorer sections is introduced there are always anomalies here and there. If the Deputy brings any individual case before the Minister or myself he can rest assured that it will be favourably dealt with.

May I ask——

I am calling the next question.

15.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether the new fuel scheme will represent an improvement on the schemes previously operated.

I am satisfied that the new national fuel scheme represents a considerable improvement on the arrangements previously in operation.

An additional 29,000 people will benefit under the new scheme and the assistance of £2 weekly represents an increase of 33? per cent over the rate provided generally last year. The new scheme, together with the urban schemes which are continuing concurrently, will cost a total of £7 million this winter which is 75 per cent more than last year's expenditure.

Having regard to what the Minister has indicated, will the value of benefit under this fuel scheme for a person in County Carlow or in County Galway be the same when it is fully operational?

When a person goes in with a £2 voucher to buy coal it might be found that there is a different price in County Carlow or in Galway so the value of the voucher may not be the same.

Will the Minister agree that all the Minister can be responsible for is the value of the voucher and not the cost of items? Will the value of the voucher and the value of the scheme be the same nationwide?

The value of the voucher, which is £2, will be the same throughout the country. The price of the article being purchased is a matter for the Minister for industry, Commerce and Energy.