Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Questions (90, 97)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

90. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Social Protection the total amount of households affected by changes to the household benefits package; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11098/13]

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Barry Cowen

Question:

97. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Social Protection the discussions, if any, she has had with suppliers of household benefit package elements on reducing charges to customers in receipt of the household benefits package; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11091/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 90 and 97 together.

The total cost of the Electricity/Gas allowance in 2013 is estimated at €176m with 405,000 recipients. The total cost of the Telephone allowance in 2013 is estimated at €48.1m with 395,000 recipients. My Department meets regularly with the energy and telecommunication providers to ensure the smooth operation of the household benefits scheme and to pursue savings for the Department and better deals for our customers.

In Budget 2013, the structure of the electricity and gas allowance was changed from a unit based allowance to a cash credit which is currently €35 per month. This rate is aligned to the best average market rate currently available. The changed structure of the allowance is designed to encourage customers to achieve better savings through greater mobility between energy suppliers who can best meet their individual energy needs. If customers do not use their full entitlement, they will be able to carry forward that unused cash credit and draw it down as they wish and particularly if they wish to change supplier. Prior to these changes, credit could not be carried forward by the customer to a new supplier and this acted as an impediment to customers achieving the best value for their particular energy needs and switching supplier having regard to the best deals on offer in the energy supply market. In relation to the changes in the Budget 2013 to the telephone allowance, Eircom has responded by providing a special package - Eircom Talktime Control - for vulnerable customers with affordability issues who are also customers of the Department of Social Protection.