Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

291 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her plans to extend the free schemes to widows and widowers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15061/02]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

299 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will consider a change in regulations which would allow persons in receipt of social welfare payments only, such as a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11, to qualify for the free schemes as current regulations prevent them; if she will consider making such changes in the next Social Welfare Bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15233/02]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 291 and 299 together.

The free schemes, including the electricity/gas allowance, telephone allowance and free television licence schemes, are generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who fulfil a means test. The schemes are also available to carers and people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. People aged over 70 years of age can qualify regardless of their income or household composition.

In order to be eligible for the schemes a person who is under 70 years of age must, as well as receiving a qualifying payment be living alone or with an excepted person. In this connection, the person concerned, whose husband has applied for the free schemes is in receipt of unemployment benefit and she is, therefore, not regarded as an excepted person for the purposes of the schemes. Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the free schemes retain that entitlement. The cost of extending the free schemes to all widow/ers, regardless of age, income and household composition, could be in the region of €30 million annually. The current arrangements for the free schemes will be kept under review in the context of the future budgets and available resources.