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Social Welfare Benefits.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 22 March 2005

Tuesday, 22 March 2005

Questions (305, 306, 307, 308, 309)

John McGuinness

Question:

305 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if financial assistance or a special needs payment will be given in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if this person is in receipt of the free schemes; and if an appeal in their case will be expedited. [9380/05]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for exceptional needs payments to assist with essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her household income or other resources. The southern region of the Health Service Executive has advised that the person concerned applied for an exceptional needs payment to assist with heating costs. Her application was refused on the grounds that the level of her household income was sufficient to provide for the expenses in question. She was advised of her right to appeal this decision but the executive has no record that she has done so to date. According to the records of my Department, the person concerned is in receipt of a fuel allowance and telephone allowance in addition to her social welfare retirement pension. Her spouse is in receipt of an electricity allowance and free TV licence from my Department in addition to his old age contributory pension. Individual entitlements to supplementary welfare allowance are a matter for the executive to determine, based on the circumstances of the applicants concerned. Neither I nor my Department has any function in this regard.

John McGuinness

Question:

306 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the full rent allowance will be restored to a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if a response will be expedited. [9381/05]

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The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a rent supplement to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible persons who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The amount of rent supplement payable in a particular case depends on a number of factors, including the applicant's household composition. The southern region of the Health Service Executive has advised that a decision was made to reduce the amount of rent supplement payable to the person concerned due to a change in her household situation. The person concerned has appealed to the executive's area appeals officer. The executive has advised that a decision will be made on her appeal as soon as possible.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

307 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether SWA circular no. 1 of 2005 issued on 31 January 2005, restricts in any way the discretion given to the Health Service Executive to award an SWA rent supplement in any case in which it appears to the executive that the circumstances of the case so warrant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9390/05]

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Trevor Sargent

Question:

308 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether the principal criteria upon which a determination might be made by the Health Service Executive, in the exercise of its discretion concerning the award of an SWA rent supplement, are in any way amended or qualified by SWA circular no. 1 of 2005 concerning the safety and well-being of the applicants for SWA rent allowance or a situation in which an applicant is being made homeless or forced to use facilities for the homeless unless rent supplement is awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9391/05]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 307 and 308 together.

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a rent supplement to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible persons who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

As the Deputy is aware I have made two changes in the conditions for receipt of rent supplement. First, to ensure that bona fide tenants may access rent supplement in appropriate circumstances I have abolished the six months prior renting requirement. Rent supplement may now be paid in cases where the applicants had established himself or herself in rented accommodation from within his or her own resources, with an expectation that this would continue into the future, and then suffers a change in circumstances such as redundancy or serious illness, with the result that he or she can no longer afford the rent. Rent supplement continues to be payable where a person is homeless or where a housing authority affirms that the applicant has a housing need, and in other specific situations. Second, I have eased the rules relating to the refusal of local authority accommodation. Up to now rent supplement was not payable where a person refused, within a 12 month period, a second offer of local authority accommodation. Rent supplement now may be paid unless a person has refused, within an eighteen month period, three offers of accommodation from a local authority.

In addition to these changes I have also eased the means test for rent supplement. The amount of additional income from part-time employment, participation in approved training courses and a portion of maintenance payments to be disregarded has been increased from €50 to €60 per week. Regulations have been made to give effect to these changes from 31 January 2005 and the revised rent supplement conditions have been advised to community welfare staff by way of the circular from my Department to which the Deputy refers. None of the measures which I have introduced affect the existing discretion available to the community welfare service to pay rent supplement where it considers that the exceptional circumstances or special needs of the applicant so warrant. This long-standing discretionary power was restated in the new regulations and in the circular for community welfare staff for clarity.

Mary Upton

Question:

309 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will review the dietary allowance payment; and if he will reverse the current policy of driving the payment into insignificance. [9528/05]

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Diet supplements are provided for under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. Any person receiving a social welfare or health service executive payment, who has been prescribed a special diet as a result of a specified medical condition and who is unable to provide for his or her food needs from within his or her own resources, may qualify for a diet supplement. The amount of supplement payable in individual cases depends on the category of diet, low cost or high cost, which has been prescribed by the applicant's medical advisor, and the income of the individual and his or her dependents. To inform future development of the scheme, my Department commissioned a study by an expert from the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute in October 2004. The study examined the composition and cost both of a normal healthy diet and of the special diets prescribed in legislation for which assistance is available through the existing diet supplement scheme. It also considered the additional costs if any in meeting special diet needs recommended currently for particular medical conditions. The findings of this research study are being assessed by my Department to determine how the diet supplement scheme should be developed. I announced in Budget 2005 that improvements would be made in the context of the study and a provision of up to €2,000,000 was provided. I will introduce regulations to update the scheme as necessary as soon as this assessment has been completed.

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