Thursday, 9 September 2021

Questions (692, 693, 718)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

692. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection if she plans to grant passes under the free travel scheme to persons who suffer from epilepsy, and who are not eligible for driving licences due to their disability, to aid their mobility; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42271/21]

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Michael Lowry

Question:

693. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will investigate the provision of making free travel passes available to persons with epilepsy who are temporarily barred from driving for one year due to having a breakthrough seizure; if she will consider uncoupling the free travel pass from other qualifying payments to ensure that there is a direct application process for a free travel pass (details supplied); if she will consider this request as part of her Department’s Budget 2022 proposals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42273/21]

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Patrick Costello

Question:

718. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Social Protection her position on budget proposals submitted to her by an organisation (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42719/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 692, 693 and 718 together.

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. 1,005,000 customers with direct eligibility. The estimated expenditure on free travel in 2021 is €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.

While I am aware of the campaign by Epilepsy Ireland, extending the free travel scheme to people with epilepsy during the period in which they are disallowed from driving cannot be considered in isolation. There are a range of disabilities and medical conditions that can prevent a person from holding a driving licence and to award a free travel pass to a person with any one of these conditions in isolation would immediately result in calls for all people who are not allowed to hold a driving licence because of their medical condition to receive the free travel pass and could result in challenges under the Equal Status Act.

If the Free Travel scheme were to be extended to all people who are not allowed to drive due to their disability, regardless of whether they receive a qualifying payment, a medical assessment process would be required for all such applications, significantly changing the nature of the scheme and requiring additional administrative processes to be put in place in order to adjudicate eligibility. Significant extra funding would also be required and, accordingly, it could only be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.

While consideration is always given to any requests to improve or extend eligibility to the free travel scheme, uncoupling the link between receipt of particular social welfare payments and eligibility for the free travel scheme would so fundamentally alter the scheme that it would move it away from being a social welfare measure to being a general transport initiative.

Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, my Department may award a travel supplement, where the circumstances of the particular 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 individual 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 Deputies.

Question No. 693 answered with Question No. 692.