Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

763 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the regulations governing the living alone allowance with regard to hospital stays; his views on whether it is fair that, if older persons who are in receipt of this allowance attend hospital as an in-patient for more than 13 weeks, they have their payment suspended for that period; and the amount this has saved the Exchequer in the last year for which figures are available; if he will review this rule as an indication of the State's commitment to the International Year of Older Persons. [2255/99]

A person aged 66 or over who is residing alone will qualify for a living alone allowance of £6 per week if she-he is getting a social welfare pension or one of a number of other payments from my Department. The allowance is payable by way of an increase in the person's weekly social welfare payment. At end December 1998, there were almost 108,000 living alone allowances in payment at an annual cost to the Exchequer of £33.584 million.

The purpose of the living alone allowance is to compensate for the additional costs which pensioners living on their own have to meet when compared with a couple or a family living together. When a person enters a hospital or similar institution the living alone allowance is discontinued. However, the allowance is restored in full without any loss of payment if the person is dis charged within 13 weeks and resumes living alone. Where the person is discharged from hospital after a stay of more than 13 weeks, the allowance is reinstated from a current date.
It is considered that the 13 week guideline is reasonable in the context of the basic legal requirement that the person lives alone.
There are no satistics available as to the number of such allowances which were discontinued on foot of admissions to hospital.