I propose to take Questions Nos. 372 and 386 together.
Some 410,000 customers have received the fuel allowance of €20 per week for 26 weeks from October to April, at an estimated cost of €208 million in 2014. The allowance is subject to a means test and is paid only to those who live alone or with certain exempted people.
The electricity or gas allowance of €35 per month is also paid to 410,000 customers at an estimated cost of €230 million in 2014. This allowance is subject to a means test for those aged under 70 and is also paid only to those who live alone or with certain exempted people.
In addition, a person living alone and in receipt of a pension, a widow’s, widower’s or surviving civil partner’s payment or a disability payment from the Department may be entitled to the living alone allowance of €7.70 per week.
Older people approaching pension age in receipt of long-term jobseeker’s allowance (15 months or more in payment) may be entitled to fuel allowance. If they are in receipt of a widow’s, widower’s or surviving civil partner’s payment or a disability payment they may be eligible for fuel allowance and household benefits subject to meeting the qualifying criteria for these schemes. I am not in a position to extend the criteria for these schemes or the current value of the allowances.
There is a cost associated with the consumption of fossil fuels to the detriment of our environment and solid fuels have the highest carbon content of all fossil fuels. Given the environmental impact, it is important that they be taxed accordingly so as to encourage people to use other cleaner fuels.
It is recognised in the Government’s Energy Affordability Strategy that the best way to tackle fuel poverty in the long term is to improve the energy efficiency of the dwelling. The Better Energy Warmer Homes scheme, administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, delivers a range of energy efficiency measures to low income households vulnerable to energy poverty. Measures available include draught proofing, attic insulation, lagging jackets for hot water tanks, low energy light bulbs and cavity wall insulation, and are free of charge to the customer.