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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 Apr 2000

Vol. 518 No. 3

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Code.

Liam Lawlor


220 Mr. Lawlor asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will extend the qualifying period for heating allowance in view of the continuing cold weather and the steep increase in home heating oil prices. [11542/00]

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are on long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide for their own heating needs. A payment of £5 per week – £8 per week in smokeless zones – is paid to eligible households for 26 weeks from mid-October to mid-April, regardless of the temperature. As a consequence, there may be a small number of occasions when the allowance is not paid even though temperatures are unseasonably low and equally, the allowance is paid at times when temperatures are above the seasonal norm.

Expenditure on the national fuel scheme has increased by approximately 20% in the past six years from £37.5 million in 1993 to £44.9 million in 1998. A sum of £46.4 million has been provided in the estimates for the scheme for the 1999-2000 fuel season.
Any extension to the duration of the scheme would have significant cost implications which could only be considered in a budgetary context, taking increases in primary weekly payment rates into account.
The national and smokeless fuel schemes were reviewed in 1998 as part of my Department's series of programme evaluations. The review group took the view that improvements in the national fuel scheme cannot be looked at in isolation from the improvements in the primary weekly payment rates. In that regard, substantial increases in all the social welfare primary payments of either £3 or £6 per week were paid from June 1999 with further increases of either £4 or £7 which will come into effect from May 2000.
Although the national fuel scheme operates for a fixed period, there is a facility available through the supplementary welfare allowance, SWA, scheme to assist people in certain circumstances who have special heating needs at any time of the year. This operates in addition to the national fuel scheme. Under the SWA scheme, a person who has exceptional heating costs due to ill health or infirmity may qualify for a heating supplement. This can be paid as a weekly supplement in addition to other social welfare payments.
An application for a heating supplement may be made by contacting the community welfare officer at the local health centre.