Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Questions (1039, 1040, 1045, 1046)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

1039. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the action she plans to take to ameliorate the effects of increasing fuel costs and the increased carbon taxes for Travellers living in temporary accommodation, mobile homes and caravans due to the disproportionate heating costs they face and the effect this will have on their ability to keep warm for the 2019-2020 winter season and in line with the recommendation in the MABS report Addressing Energy Poverty Among Travellers Living in Mobile Homes and Trailers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44461/19]

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Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

1040. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to extend the fuel allowance to Traveller families that are officially sharing a bay in a halting site to assist them with their fuel costs in line with a recommendation of the MABS report Addressing Energy Poverty Among Travellers Living in Mobile Homes and Trailers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44462/19]

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Bríd Smith

Question:

1045. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if an increase will be made in the winter fuel allowance payment for Traveller families living in mobile homes or trailers. [44553/19]

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Bríd Smith

Question:

1046. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the winter fuel payment will be extended to Traveller families that are officially sharing accommodation. [44554/19]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1039, 1040, 1045 and 1046 together.

The Fuel Allowance is currently a payment of €22.50 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €630 each year) from October to April, to over 372,000 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. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. It should be noted that only one allowance is paid per household.

My Department also pays an electricity or gas allowance under the household benefits scheme at an estimated cost of €188 million in 2019.

I am aware of the MABS report addressing energy poverty among travellers living in mobile homes and trailers and I have asked officials in my Department to examine the recommendations in the report in relation to the fuel allowance scheme.

Fuel Allowance is a household payment and can be paid when the residence is on an approved site (publically or privately owned) with planning permission for the caravan / mobile home. However, where someone lives in a residence which is without planning permission such as in the case where an additional mobile home or caravan is placed on a bay designed for single use, these 'additional' places of residence are not currently legally distinct households which impacts on their eligibility for Fuel Allowance.

In Budget 2020, I increased the Fuel Allowance payment by €2 to €24.50 per week. This is an increase of just under 9% and will increase the annual Fuel Allowance rate from €630 to €686, i.e., a €56 yearly increase. This increase follows on from a number of other improvements and increases made to the Fuel Allowance scheme in recent Budgets including an increase from €20 to €22.50 per week and the number of weeks the fuel allowance is paid for increasing from 26 to 27 and then to 28.

In addition, it is important to note that, while the Fuel Allowance increase will come into effect from the 6th January 2020, the carbon tax increase will not take effect until May 2020 for home heating fuels, giving such households additional headroom for its introduction.

The Fuel Allowance is intended to address income deficiency, not energy poverty. My colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, has the role of reducing energy poverty by implementing measures (administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI)) to improve the energy efficiencies of Irish homes. In this respect, the Government Climate Action Plan commits to reviewing ways to improve how current energy poverty schemes can target those most in need. In this regard Budget 2020 is the first to put a major focus on climate action but has also ensured that the most vulnerable will be protected and supported to participate in the transition.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.