asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he is aware that a large number of unemployed persons are now unable to pay their electricity bills; and if he will arrange to reduce rental charges by 50 per cent for medical card holders.
Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Electricity Bills.
The free electricity allowance scheme administered by my Department provides mainly for persons over 66 years of age who are in receipt of specified pensions and who are living alone. Persons on short-term social welfare payments are not eligible. The cost of the free electricity scheme for 1983 is estimated at £18.5 million. It is difficult to estimate the cost of extending the scheme in the limited fashion suggested by the Deputy because of the frequency of broken claims that would arise but it is estimated that the cost would be of the order of £1 million.
Unemployed persons who are unable to pay their electricity bill because their means are insufficient to meet their needs may, however, apply for assistance under the supplementary welfare allowances scheme.
Is the Minister aware that there are many people with large families in receipt of unemployment assistance and supplementary welfare allowances who cannot afford to meet their electricity bills at present? Will he take up this matter with the health boards and introduce a scheme to cater for such people?
There is a serious question of cost involved. In 1983 the scheme will cost £18½ million. If it were extended to unemployed medical card holders for example, the gross cost of implementing the scheme would be £9 million in a full year. I have only £18½ million to spend on it in 1983.
Is the Minister saying that unfortunates who have no income other than supplementary welfare allowance or unemployment assistance must allow their electricity supply to be disconnected by the ESB?
No. Persons who are unemployed and cannot pay their ESB bills have an opportunity, admittedly it is a limited one, to apply for assistance under the supplementary welfare allowances scheme. Health boards are in a position to pay towards the cost of such electricity bills. The money is paid from the Department of Social Welfare to the health boards but I am not in a position to give them anything extra this year.