Wednesday, 22 June 2005

Questions (182, 183, 184, 185)

John Cregan

Question:

184 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the fuel allowance was last increased; if he will report on the current rules regarding income eligibility; and if he will increase the fuel allowance and income eligibility in budget 2006. [21436/05]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

To qualify for an allowance under the national fuel scheme an applicant must be in receipt of a qualifying payment, live alone or only with a dependent spouse-partner-child or children or with other eligible recipients and be unable to provide for his or her heating needs from his or her own resources.

People who are in receipt of relevant non-contributory social assistance payments do not have to undergo a further means assessment for fuel allowance purposes. An income test applies in the case of other applicants, whereby they and members of their household may have means of up to €51 a week derived from income or from savings-capital of up to €46,000, above the benchmark of the old age contributory pension rate appropriate to their household size, and still qualify for the fuel allowance.

This formula provides an in-built annual indexation of the eligibility limits for fuel allowance purposes. These income limits are increased automatically in line with the prevailing rate of old age contributory pension.

The last increase in the fuel allowance was made in 2002, when rates were increased from £5, €6.35, to €9 in January of that year. There has been no change in the supplement of €3.90 payable in the designated urban smokeless fuel zones.

The very significant increases since then in primary social welfare payment rates have improved the income position in real terms for people dependent on the social welfare system. These rates are payable throughout the year and are intended to cover basic living costs, including cooking and heating, supplemented where applicable by the fuel allowance during the winter heating season. Many households also qualify for electricity or gas allowances throughout the year under the social welfare household benefits scheme. In addition a heating supplement may be payable through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme in cases of individual special need.

Apart from the automatic indexation of the fuel allowance income limits each year in line with general social welfare pension increases, there are no plans at present to increase fuel allowance scheme rates or to amend the eligibility criteria. Any such change to the scheme would have to be considered in a budget context, and in the light of other priorities.

John Cregan

Question:

185 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will increase the number of free units of electricity and gas given under the household free schemes due to the significant increase in energy costs in the past five years (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21438/05]

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David Stanton

Question:

190 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to extend the free travel scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21636/05]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 185 and 190 together.

The electricity allowance covers normal standing charges and up to 1,800 units of electricity each year. VAT due on this standard allowance is also covered. The value of the allowance, if fully taken up, is €359.91 per annum.

The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years, or over, to all carers in receipt of carer's allowance and to carers of people in receipt of constant attendance or prescribed relative's allowance.

It is also available to people under age 66 who are in receipt of certain disability type welfare payments, such as disability allowance, invalidity pension and blind person's pension. Improvements to these schemes would be a matter to be considered in a budgetary context.

Mary Upton

Question:

186 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will review an application for the respite care grant by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6W. [21531/05]

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The person to whom the Deputy refers submitted an application for the respite care grant on 9 May 2005 in respect of full-time care provided by her in respect of her parents. A decision not to award the respite care grant in this case was made by a deciding officer on 10 June 2005. Among the documentary information relied upon by the deciding officer was the opinion of a medical assessor who, on examination of the medical evidence submitted with the application, was of the view that the people being cared for were not so incapacitated as to require full time care and attention.

A deciding officer may revise any decision on receipt of new facts or evidence. Should further medical evidence supporting the contention that the people in question requires full-time care and attention be submitted to my Department, the situation will be reviewed.

The carer is entitled to formally appeal the decision to disallow the respite care grant by submitting an appeal to the social welfare appeals office.