Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
754 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the cost of giving a free telephone allowance to all on a disability allowance and wheelchair bound applicants; the reason a free telephone allowance is given to carers and not to wheelchair bound persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1692/99]
The free telephone rental allowance is available to people who are living in the State, aged 66 or over, and in receipt of a welfare type payment. It is also available to certain people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. In addition, widows/widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the free schemes retain that entitlement. At the end of December 1998 over 170,000 people qualified for free telephone rental allowance at an annual cost of some £30 million.
To qualify for the free telephone rental allowance, the person must be living alone or only with certain excepted people who satisfy this condition. This condition is not, however, applied in the case of persons aged 75 years or over who are in receipt of a qualifying payment.
The purpose of the allowance is to provide an element of protection and security in their homes for older and disabled people who are either living alone or with persons who would be unable to summon help in an emergency.
Over 6,800 people in receipt of disability allowance, who satisfy the qualifying conditions, are in receipt of free telephone rental allowance at an estimated cost of £1.2 million per year.
It is estimated that the additional full year cost of extending the free telephone rental allowance to all people in receipt of disability allowance would be over £7 million. As statistics on the number of wheelchair users in Ireland are not available, I am unable to provide an estimate of the cost of extending the allowance to this group.
The review of the carer's allowance, published in October 1998 by the Department, noted that the role of caring can involve significant isolation and emotional stress for the carer. In recognition of the need for constant contact and support, the 1999 budget introduced a free telephone rental allowance for all carers in receipt of a carer's allowance and for carers of those in receipt of constant attendance or prescribed relatives allowance. This measure will come into effect in August 1999 and will benefit approximately 7,800 carers at an annual cost of £1.4 million.
The free schemes were originally designed to benefit mainly older people in receipt of a social welfare type payment who were living alone and required additional assistance. However, over the years additional categories of people have been included. A fundamental review of the free schemes, including the free telephone rental allowance scheme, will commence in March 1999, to assess whether the objectives of these schemes are being achieved in the most efficient and effective manner.