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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Apr 1991

Vol. 407 No. 4

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Noonan


71 Mr. Noonan (Limerick East) asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason a free fuel allowance was withdrawn from a person (details supplied) in Limerick who is in receipt of a widow's pension; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that when her pension book was returned to the Sligo office of his Department, it was not returned for three weeks and that the person had no income for a three-week period due to this inordinate delay; if he will investigate the situation as a matter of urgency and give an assurance that in future, his Department deal with cases such as this in a more expeditious manner.

The person concerned was in receipt of a free fuel allowance on the basis that she was living alone. Following a review of her case, it was belived that she no longer satisfied the conditions for receipt of the allowance.

Additional information subsequently provided by the person concerned is being investigated to establish her entitlement to the free fuel allowance for the next season which beings in October. Due to an administrative error there was a delay as outlined by the Deputy. The procedures are being reviewed to ensure that normal speedy issue of replacement books will be achieved in all circumstances.

Richard Bruton


72 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social Welfare when the £6 earnings disregarded under single parent social welfare allowances was last increased; if he will outline what its value would now be if it had been indexed according to the rate of inflation; and if he will consider increasing this allowance.

In assessing means under the lone parents allowance scheme earnings of the lone parent of up to £312 per annum for each dependent child are disregarded. This earnings disregard was fixed in 1982 and its present equivalent would be about £9 a week.

In addition to the earnings disregard, allowance is also made for expenses related to employment which the lone parent may have, such as child-minding expenses and travel costs. Furthermore, there is a general means disregard of £6 a week which applies to pension schemes generally.
The question of changes in the level of the earnings disregards would be a matter for consideration in a budgetary context. I am examining ways in which lone parents who wish to take up employment would be encouraged to do so and the question of the earnings disregard will be relevant in that context.

Richard Bruton


73 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether he has considered grading child benefit to provide higher payments in respect of single parent families; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Significant progress has been made over the last few years to improve the position of families through increases in the basic rates of payments. This has included substantial increases in child dependant payments together with increases in child benefit. In the 1991 budget, the main improvements in child related payments were: an increase in the minimum child dependant rate to £12 per week representing an increase of 9 per cent, and streamlining to three rates; the payment of the higher child benefit of £22.90 in respect of the fourth child onwards, which represents an annual increase of over £85 for families of at least four children and improvements in the family income supplement scheme including an increase in the income limits and the removals of the limitation on the level of payment. This latter improvement will be of significant help to low earners.

In addition, the child-related tax exemption scheme, with effect from 6 April 1991, provides for a child tax exemption of £300 for the first and second child in a family, and £500 for third and subsequent children.

In relation to single parent families in particular, the lone parent's allowance scheme was introduced in November 1990. This new allowance, for the first time, provides a special means-tested social welfare payment for lone parents such as separated spouses, unmarried fathers and prisoners' husbands. Higher child dependants allowances are paid in respect of the children of lone parents both through this new scheme and through the existing insurance schemes for lone parents.
Under theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress, the Government intends to provide the level of resources necessary to implement the additional child income support measures recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare, some £69 million in 1990 terms, over the ten year period of the programme. The particular measures taken will be decided in the light of up to date information on child and family circumstances and in the light of available resources. In this context the structure of all child-related payments, including child benefit, will be examined taking account of the issue raised in the Deputy's question.

Richard Bruton


74 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether he will consider extending the conditions under which pensioners can retain their entitlement to free schemes after someone comes to live with them to include situations such as (1) providing shelter to a person who would otherwise be homeless or unsuitably accommodated and (2) where the pensioner's medical condition is such that they need a certain level of medical care not necessarily full-time care.

One of the condition for entitlement to free electricity and gas allowances, and the free television licence, is that the pensioner be living alone or only with persons such as a dependant spouse, a child or a person providing full-time care and attention where the pensioner is invalided. Last year I announced a special concession whereby recipients of the free electricity allowance, the natural gas allowance and the free television licence who are over 80 years of age would continue to receive them where other people who would normally disqualify them from receiving the allowance came to live with them. Further changes in the conditions for entitlement to these allowances would have financial implications and would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

Richard Bruton


75 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether he has satisfied himself that persons are not being left without financial support due to the operation of the three waiting days to qualify for disability benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Waiting days have been a feature of the disability benefit scheme since its inception and are a feature of social security systems in many countries.

I am satisfied that people are not generally left without any financial support during those days. Many employees would be paid occupational sick pay. Where a person has no other income, supplementary welfare allowance can be paid.