Thursday, 11 February 2021

Questions (166)

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

166. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Social Protection the steps she and her Department are taking to ensure that older persons can access affordable broadband (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7709/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The telephone support allowance (TSA) is an allowance of €2.50 which is paid to over 135,000 customers weekly. The estimated full year cost of the scheme in 2021 is over €18 million. To receive the allowance a customer of my Department must be in receipt of a qualifying payment such as the State Pension and also in receipt of the Living Alone Allowance and the Fuel Allowance. The scheme supports recipients by assisting with the cost of communications and/or home security solutions.

The TSA is one of a number of supports that recipients of State Pension payments may, subject to satisfying eligibility conditions, have access to. Other supports include the living alone increase (€19 a week), household benefits (€35 a month and the free TV licence element), fuel allowance (€28.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €784 for the fuel season)) and free travel.

During the COVID-19 emergency, the Government has been seeking to implement and operate supports that are targeted where most needed, to ensure continued economic activity and reduce the risk of poverty.

In Budget 2021, the Government decided to allocate one third of additional carbon tax revenues to boosting the incomes of the poorest in our society. The Government commissioned ESRI research which identified three key payments by the Department of Social Protection to channel carbon tax revenues towards this cohort. These were the Qualified Child Allowance, the Living Alone Allowance and the Fuel Allowance.

Therefore, effective from January 2021, the weekly Fuel Allowance payment has been increased by €3.50 per week to €28 for a period of 28 weeks. Also from January 2021, Qualified Child payments have been increased by €2 per week, from €36 to €38 per week, for children under 12 years of age and by €5 per week, from €40 to €45 per week, for children aged 12 and over. It is estimated that this will benefit 419,000 children who are most in need. The Living Alone Allowance was also increased in Budget 2021 by €5 from €14 to €19 at an overall cost in 2021 of €57.5 million.

Furthermore, my Department operates both Exceptional and Urgent Needs Payments as part of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme for people who have an urgent need, which they cannot meet from their own resources. These payments are available through our Community Welfare Officers.

All proposals, including any proposals to introduce a new support allowance, whereby older people are provided with a weekly allowance towards broadband, could only be considered while taking account of overall Government policy and in a budgetary context.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.