I propose to take Questions Nos. 503 and 504 together.
The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €28.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €784 each year) from October to April, to an average of 372,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. 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.
My Department also pays an electricity or gas allowance under the Household Benefits scheme at an estimated cost of €195 million in 2021. This is paid at a rate of €35 per month, 12 months of the year.
The criteria for fuel allowance are framed in order to direct the limited resources available to my Department in as targeted a manner as possible. A Public Service pension is not a qualifying payment for fuel allowance. Qualifying payments for those aged 66 or over include State Pension (Contributory or Non-Contributory), Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner’s Pension (Contributory), Deserted Wives Benefit, Incapacity Supplement under the Disablement Pension Scheme, Death Benefit Pension under Occupational Injuries Benefit Scheme as well as certain social security payments from a country covered by EU Regulations or a country with which Ireland has a Bilateral Social Security Agreement. All other qualifying conditions must also be satisfied to receive the payment.
The Living Alone Increase is a €19 increase in the weekly rate of payment of certain Irish social protection payments, awarded where the recipient is living alone. For those aged 66 or over, payments include State Pension (Contributory), State Pension (Non-contributory) , Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Civil Partner’s (Contributory) Pension, Widow's/Widower's Pension under the Occupational Injuries Benefit Scheme, Incapacity Supplement under the Occupational Injuries Benefit Scheme and Deserted Wife's Benefit. It is not a stand-alone payment. There are no circumstances where the living alone increase can be paid to people who are not in receipt of a qualifying payment from my Department.
Any decision to allow former Public Servants who are not in receipt of a qualifying payment to receive the fuel allowance or the living alone increase would have budgetary consequences and would have to be considered in the context of budget negotiations.
The Government values the role of carers very much and it is for this reason that they receive significant income supports from the Department. Carer’s Benefit is a payment made to insured people who may be required to leave the workforce or reduce their working hours to care for a person(s) in need of full time care. It is payable for a period of 2 years (104 weeks) for each care recipient and may be claimed over separate periods up to a total of 2 years (104 weeks). Carer’s Allowance is a means tested payment to people on low incomes who are caring full-time for a person who needs support because of age, disability or illness.
In addition to Carer’s Allowance, carers receive further support in the form of free travel and household benefits (for those who live with the person for whom they care) and the annual Carer's Support Grant in respect of each person for whom they care for. S/he can also receive an extra half-rate Carer’s Allowance if s/he cares for more than one person.
The maximum rates of Carer's Allowance for those aged under 66, at €219 (€257 for carers aged 66 or over) where one person is being cared for, and €328.50 (€385.50 for carers aged 66 or over) where there are two or more carees, is significantly higher than that for most schemes administered by my Department.
The means test for Carer's Allowance has been significantly eased over the years, and is now one of the most generous means tests in the social welfare system, most notably with regard to spouse’s earnings. At present the means test for Carer’s Allowance allows for an income disregard of €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 for a couple. In the case of a single carer, that person may retain a full-rate payment of €219.00 while having an annual income of just under €19,000, or retain a payment of €109.00 per week (just under half rate) while having an annual income of €25,400, or retain the minimum payment of €4 per week while having an annual income of €31,100.
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 from their own resources, and this may include exceptional heating costs. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.