The household benefits package (HHB) comprises the electricity or gas allowance, and the free television licence. My Department will spend approximately €248 million this year on HHB for over 446,000 customers. 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 375,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €240 million in 2019.
Since 1 April 2012, new applicants in receipt of Carers Allowance who are not living with the person for whom they provide care do not have an automatic entitlement to the household benefits package. Carers who live with the person they are caring for still have an entitlement of their own to the household benefits package and do not have to satisfy the household composition criteria. Carers Allowance is not a qualifying payment for fuel allowance and there were no recent Budget changes that would have caused people in receipt of carers allowance to lose entitlement to fuel allowance.
The Government values the role of carers very much and it is for this reason that they receive significant income supports from the Department. In addition to carer’s allowance carers receive additional support in the form of free travel and household benefits (for those who live with the person for whom they care) and the annual carers support grant (€1,700) in respect of each person for whom they care. Where a person is in receipt of certain qualifying social welfare payments, and also providing full time care and attention to another person, they can keep their primary social welfare payment and also get the half-rate carer's allowance.
It should also be noted that since October 2013 the payment of half-rate carer’s allowance does not preclude a person from qualifying for fuel allowance. If a person is in receipt of a non-contributory social welfare payment and a half-rate carer’s allowance, then they are deemed to have satisfied the means test and fuel allowance is payable subject to all remaining criteria being satisfied. If a person is in receipt of a contributory social welfare payment and a half-rate carer’s allowance then they will have to undergo a means test for fuel allowance.
The maximum rates of Carer's Allowance, at €219 for where one person is being cared for, and €328.50 where there are two or more carees, is significantly higher than that for Jobseekers Allowance, which is €203 for those aged 26, and lower for younger claimants. In addition to this higher rate, the means test for Carer's Allowance is very significantly more generous than that which applies to Jobseekers Allowance, which widens further the gap in payments between Carers and Jobseekers.
Any decision to change the qualifying criteria for HHB or fuel allowance would have budgetary consequences and would have to be considered in the context of budget negotiations.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.