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.