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. The household benefits package 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. If a person is one of a couple and is not separated then the Department will assess them as a couple in the fuel allowance or household benefits means test. The means tests are based on income and do not take account of expenditure. There is no disregard available for nursing home fees. In general the income limits for the schemes are higher for couples with the highest income limit available to couples aged over 66 years of age.
I would like to thank the Deputy for raising this issue. All our schemes are kept under review and I will keep this issue under consideration. The biggest single block of expenditure in the Department is expenditure on pensions which will amount to €6.5 billion, or 33% of overall expenditure which was provided for in the Estimate for 2014. The focus of the Department is on maintaining the rate of the State pension and other core payments which is critical in relation to protecting people from poverty.