The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders on long-term social welfare or health service executive payments with meeting the cost of their additional heating needs during the winter season. Fuel allowances are paid for 29 weeks from end-September to mid-April and are not intended to meet the full cost of heating. Some 274,000 people benefited from the fuel allowance in 2006 at an estimated annual cost of €125.1million. As a consequence of the increase in rate and the increase in the income threshold for eligibility as announced in the recent Budget, annual expenditure on the scheme in 2007 will increase by an estimated €36.4 million. The total annual cost in 2007 is estimated at €161.5 million. Eligibility to the fuel allowance scheme is subject to means and other conditions. The main conditions that apply to the fuel allowance scheme are that a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment, must satisfy a means test and must either be living alone or with a qualifying dependant. People who already qualify for means-tested pensions or allowances such as old age (non-contributory) pension, long-term unemployment assistance or one-parent family payment do not have to undergo a further means test to qualify for fuel allowance. Most people who receive fuel allowances qualify because they satisfy the relevant means test for their primary weekly payment. However, from 29 September 2006 people in receipt of the State Pension can have earnings of up to €100 per week from insurable employment and still maintain their entitlement to fuel allowance.
In the case of contributory pensions such as State pension (contributory), State pension (transition) and invalidity pensions which are not means tested, earnings from insurable employment and/or occupational pensions are normally regarded as means for the purpose of determining an individual's entitlement to a fuel allowance. A person may have a combined household income of up to €100 per week, or savings/investments of up to €58,000, over and above the maximum rate of State pension (contributory) and still qualify for fuel allowance. Any changes in the means rules for the scheme, would have cost implications and would have to be considered in the context of the budget and in the light of the resources available for improvements in social welfare generally. In addition to the fuel allowance, some 340,000 pensioner and other households qualify for electricity or gas allowances through the household benefits package, payable towards their heating, light and cooking costs throughout the year, at an overall cost of €117 million in 2006.