The fuel allowance is a payment of €22.50 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €630 each year) from October to April, to over 377,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €240 million in 2019. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.
An applicant and members of his/her household may have a combined assessable income of up to €100.00 a week above the appropriate maximum State Pension (Contributory) rate and qualify for a payment. The allowable means a person may have is increased by €9.00 to take the living alone allowance in to account, and to ensure that a person does not lose fuel entitlement because they are in receipt of the allowance. Any changes to the qualifying criteria for the fuel allowance payment would have to be considered in the overall budgetary context.
The €100 a week means limit is significantly higher that the weekly fuel allowance rate of €22.50 and also the combined weekly total of household benefits and fuel allowance added together (€33.65). It might be remembered that more than half of those over 66 are solely dependent upon the State pension, and so a person who has additional pension income above €100, is not among the more disadvantaged people that Fuel Allowance is targeted at.
Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, exceptional needs payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which customers are unable to meet out of their own resources, and this may include exceptional heating costs. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis.
The best way to tackle fuel poverty in the long term is to improve the energy efficiency of the dwelling. My Department works with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on these issues and in moving forward the actions agreed in the Energy Affordability Strategy. In that regard, the Better Energy Homes scheme provides support towards the installation of attic and wall insulation, and heating system upgrades.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.