Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Questions (133)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

133. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to reinstate the telephone allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15502/14]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The monthly allowances under the household benefits package are a contribution towards the cost of services; they are not intended to meet those costs in full. The telephone allowance was introduced at a time when telephones were expensive and uncommon and a landline service was the only option available to the client. The market has changed considerably since the introduction of the allowance, with several companies providing a range of services and rates with bundled services including television, telephone, broadband and pay-as-you-go mobiles. In addition, the cost of the telephone allowance scheme has risen each year with the number of eligible clients also increasing significantly. In 2007 there were some 316,000 people receiving the telephone allowance compared with almost 396,000 at the end of September 2013, an increase of 25%. Each year almost 10,000 extra clients became eligible for the allowance because of the increased number of pension recipients.

The overall concern of the Government in recent budgets has been to protect the primary weekly social welfare rates. Maintaining the rate of the State pension and other core payments is key in protecting people from poverty. To allow us to preserve these core payments, we have had to look very carefully at other additional payments. Accordingly, the telephone allowance was abolished from 1 January 2014. I am not in a position to reinstate the allowance.

I am keenly aware of the impact on the Department's clients and particularly those who are living alone. In Budget 2014, I was able to maintain the rate of the living alone allowance at €7.70 per week. While the decision to abolish the telephone allowance was a difficult one, it allowed my Department to fully maintain the other elements of the household benefits package, such as the free electricity/gas allowance and the free television licence. These are very valuable supports for clients. We have also maintained the value of the fuel allowance and free travel.