Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

131 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will review the application for free fuel allowance by a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20203/00]

The aim of the national fuel allowance scheme is to assist householders who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or

health board payments and who are unable to provide for their own heating needs. A payment of £5 a week – £8 in smokeless zones – is made to eligible households during the 26 week period from mid-October to mid-April.

One of the conditions for receipt of a fuel allowance is that a contributory pensioner and members of the household must not have a combined income of more than £30 per week, in addition to the maximum rate of contributory pension. The pensioner in question has an occupational pension in excess of this amount and so does not qualify for the allowance.

If the person concerned is unable to provide for his heating needs, he may qualify for a heating payment under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme from his local community welfare officer. A heating supplement is available for those who require extra heating in their homes because of ill health or infirmity. If the Deputy feels that the person concerned may qualify for this supplement, an application may be made by contacting a local community welfare officer.
The Deputy will be aware that I made a number of improvements to the fuel allowance scheme in recent years which have ensured that many pensioners, who previously would not have been eligible, have now qualified for this allowance. From October 1999, I doubled the weekly income disregard limit from £15 to £30 per week. I am also improving the formula used by my Department to derive a weekly income from savings and investments, from the start of the 2000/2001 heating season in mid October this year. A contributory pensioner with savings and investments of up to £30,000 will now be able to qualify for the allowance provided s/he does not have other income. Other improvements include allowing access to the scheme for people previously excluded as they had access to their own fuel supply and extending the smokeless fuel supplement of £3 a week to an additional five cities/towns outside of Dublin, with a further five cities/towns being included this month.
This year, approximately 287,400 people will receive a fuel allowance of £5 per week for the 26 weeks of the fuel season and approximately 115,000 people will also receive the smokeless fuel supplement of £3 per week over the same period. Expenditure on the scheme is set to increase by over 5% from £44 million in 1999 to £46.3m this year.
The question of further improvements in the scheme would have to be considered in a budgetary context.
Question No. 132 with Question No. 119.