Written Answers. - Supplementary Welfare Policy.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

248 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if his Department's recent directive, issued to community welfare officers in the Eastern Health Board in relation to claims for rent deposits and supplements, was approved by him prior to issue; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the directive almost exclusively targets refugees and asylum seekers who are not entitled to unemployment assistance and who cannot get other housing accommodation as long as they are treated as not having a housing need; his views on the fairness of this practice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5124/00]

The supplementary welfare allowance – SWA – scheme provides assistance to people who have little or no income and is administered on my behalf by the health boards. In addition to a basic payment people may also qualify for a weekly supplement to meet certain special needs, e.g. rent or mortgage interest payments, or a payment to help with the cost of any exceptional needs they may have.

The legislation governing SWA provides that it shall be a condition of any claimant's entitlement to a rent supplement that the health board is satisfied that the claimant is in need of accommodation. It was in this context that the guidance to which the Deputy refers was sought by health board officials in relation to claims for rent supplement from people who had been placed in full board accommodation.
In general, a person who is in full board accommodation does not have an accommodation need and would not be entitled to a rent supplement or deposit. However, the guidance which was issued makes it clear that there will be instances where, in the view of the health board, full-board accommodation is not appropriate. In those circumstances, deposits and rent supplements are paid.
With regard to the communication itself, my Department's officials are in daily contact with the health boards by telephone, e-mail and letter on a range of matters relating to the operation of the SWA scheme. It would not be practical for me to approve all communications in advance and for that reason, I was not aware of the response to this particular inquiry before it issued. However, I am satisfied that the approach taken is fair and reasonable.