I propose to take Questions Nos. 157 to 159, inclusive, together.
The couple involved is in receipt of two separate payments from my Department. The husband is in receipt of a full-rate invalidity pension of €193.30 per week while the wife is in receipt of an old age non-contributory pension, which is payable at a reduced rate of €157 per week. For the purposes of determining entitlement to the old age pension, half of the couple's joint means are assessed as the means of the wife, including, in this case, half of the husband's occupational pension.
The recent budget made provision for a number of important measures designed to target resources at older people, including pensioners in receipt of a reduced rate of payment. These included an increase of €16 per week, or 9.6%, for all non-contributory pensioners, including those in receipt of reduced rates of old age pension, and an increase of €14 per week or 7.8%, for all contributory pensioners, including those on invalidity pension and those aged 66 or over. These increases are effective from January last.
I was also pleased to announce that I propose to establish a standardised State non-contributory pension, replacing the old age pension and, for recipients aged 66 and over, blind pension, widow's and widower's pension, one parent family payment, deserted wife's allowance and prisoner's wife's allowance.
All the schemes in question feature a common means disregard of €7.60 per week, which dates back to the 1970s. The means disregard for the new non-contributory pension will be €20 per week, an increase of €12.40 per week. Over 30,000 pensioners who are currently in receipt of a reduced rate of payment will gain from this change.
In the case in question, the new enhanced arrangements will mean that the spouse in receipt of the reduced rate of old age pension will, assuming her means remain unchanged, receive a further increase of €12.50 per week from the end of September next. The increase in the general means disregard, from €7.60 to €20 per week, specifically benefits those older persons who are in receipt of reduced rate non-contributory pensions because one or both of a couple have income from occupational pensions, foreign social security pensions, capital or from some other source.
In addition, I also propose to introduce a specific additional disregard of €100 per week where the pensioner is in employment. This new disregard relating to earnings from employment is intended as an initial incentive to facilitate non-contributory pensioners who wish to continue working or to re-enter the workforce.
Furthermore, consequent on the increase in the means disregard to €20 per week, a single person, with no other means, will be able to have up to €35,000 in capital and still qualify for a pension at the maximum rate. This figure is doubled in the case of a pensioner couple.
To qualify for a fuel allowance, a person must, inter alia, be in receipt of one of the qualifying payments, living alone or with a person in receipt of a qualifying payment who would be entitled to an allowance in his or her own right and be unable along with other members of the household to provide for their heating needs in their own right.
In the latter regard, a person must satisfy a means test. Where an applicant and members of his or her household have a combined assessable income of up to €51 per week above the appropriate rate of old age contributory pension for the couple, fuel allowance is payable. Where the couple are both aged over 66 and under 80 years of age, this income limit is €393.60 per week or equivalent to €20,467 per annum.
The invalidity pensioner did not qualify for a fuel allowance for the 2005-06 fuel season as the couple's overall income, comprising the invalidity pension, the old age pension and the occupational pension, was above the income limit for fuel allowance. Assuming the couple's income remains unchanged, the old age pensioner is also not entitled to a fuel allowance as she is not living with a person who is entitled to such an allowance in his own right.
Any changes to the current arrangements for fuel allowance would be considered in a budgetary context. However, I am satisfied that the improvements for pensioners introduced in the recent budget levels are exceptional. The proposed modernisation of the current arrangements, including the enhanced provisions for persons in receipt of reduced rates of old age pension, is also a further demonstration of our commitment to all those who are elderly.