Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Questions (344)

Willie O'Dea


344. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated full year cost of extending the free travel pass to those categorised as unable to drive a vehicle on medical grounds or due to the fact they do not meet regulations set out by the Road Safety Authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28315/19]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

The free travel scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators. There are currently approx. 948,000 customers with direct eligibility. Following recent announcements in Budget 2019, the funding for the free travel scheme was increased by €5 million to a total of €95 million.

In general, access to a free travel pass for those aged under 66 is linked to a person being in receipt of certain primary Social Protection payments such as disability allowance, invalidity pension, carer’s allowance, blind pension and partial capacity benefit. In 1997 the free travel pass was extended to all registered blind people regardless of whether they qualify for the Department's blind person's pension or any other Social Protection payment. Blind people remain one of the only cohorts of people aged under 66 who can qualify for a free travel pass while not in receipt of a qualifying Social Protection payment.

Any possible extension to the eligibility criteria for free travel would have significant costs implications for the free travel scheme and would also require additional administrative processes to be put in place to adjudicate eligibility. Any decision to do so could only be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme (SWA), the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection may award a travel supplement in any case where the circumstances of the case so warrant. The supplement is intended to assist with ongoing or recurring travel costs that cannot be met from the client’s own resources and are deemed to be necessary. Every decision is based on consideration of the circumstances of the case, taking account of the nature and extent of the need and of the resources of the person concerned.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.