Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Questions (124)

Tom Fleming


124. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will clarify the position in respect of the withdrawal of the telephone allowance and the extreme implications it will have for old age pensioners and persons living alone in rural isolated areas, whose alarm and security systems are connected to the land line; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44996/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

My overall concern in this Budget has been to protect the primary social welfare rates. To allow us to protect these core payments, we have had to look very carefully at other additional payments such as the household benefits package, including the telephone allowance. While we have cut the telephone allowance, there have been no cuts to the electricity/gas allowance, free travel, the free television licence, the fuel allowance or the living alone increase.

The cost of the telephone allowance scheme has risen each year and the number of eligible customers has increased very significantly. In 2007 there were some 316,000 people receiving the telephone allowance, today there are almost 400,000, an increase of 24%. Each year almost 10,000 extra customers become eligible for the allowance because of the increased number of pension recipients. The telephone allowance was introduced at a time when telephone services were more expensive and fewer people had telephones. In recent years the nature of the telephone market has been transformed with deregulation, mobile services and bundled services including television, broadband and telephone. There is a wide variety of deals and great competition now available.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has responsibility for the Seniors Alert Scheme which provides grant support for the supply of equipment such as personal alarms, smoke detectors and security lighting to enable older people without sufficient means to continue to live securely in their homes. The grant assistance is made available through community and voluntary groups registered with the Department and the equipment supplied under the scheme remains the property of the community group. The budget allocation for 2013 was €2.35 million. While the equipment currently provided requires the use of a landline, there are other companies in the market providing similar services based on mobile technology.

Finally, if any person is in particular difficulty, an application may be made for an exceptional needs payments (ENP) under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, to help meet an essential, once-off cost which an applicant is unable to meet out of his or her own resources. There is no automatic entitlement to this payment. Each application is determined based on the particular circumstances of the case.