Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Feb 1998

Vol. 486 No. 4

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Brendan Howlin


56 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the additional cost involved in extending the free fuel scheme at the £8 per week rate to all rural and urban beneficiaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2682/98]

The additional cost of increasing the fuel allowance to £8 per week for those not already in receipt of that rate is estimated at £22 million per annum.

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are on long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide for their own heating needs. A fuel allowance of £5 per week is paid to qualified householders for 26 weeks from October to April each year.

An additional smokeless fuel allowance of £3 per week was introduced in October 1990 to assist people living in the built up areas of Dublin to help meet the additional costs arising from the ban on the sale of bituminous coal in these areas. This was later extended to Cork city and adjacent areas to coincide with the ban on the sale of bituminous coal which came into effect there on 13 February 1995.

I have no plans to make the additional £3 per week allowance available to people who live outside designated smoke free zones. However, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, is currently considering proposals to give effect to the Government's commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium to extend the ban on bituminous coal to major urban areas. The geographic areas covered by the smokeless fuel allowance will be reviewed in that context.

Michael Bell


58 Mr. Bell asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will withdraw the means testing of young people living at home with their families who apply for unemployment assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2672/98]

I refer the Deputy to my previous replies to Questions No. 28 on 15 October 1997 and No. 31 on 26 November, 1997.

Unemployment assistance is a means-tested payment paid to unemployed people between the ages of 18 and 66 not entitled to insurance-based unemployment benefit. Payments are means-tested to ensure that the limited resources available are directed at those most in need. In assessing a person's means for unemployment assistance purposes, account is taken of any cash income the person may have together with the value of any capital or property. In addition, the value of any benefit or privilege enjoyed by an applicant, such as that of free board and lodging in the family home, is assessed.

It is sometimes alleged that the benefit and privilege rule for young unemployed people, encourages them to leave the family home in order to qualify for higher unemployment assistance payments and rent supplements. However, the limited evidence which is available does not suggest that this is happening to any significant degree. I have mentioned the main findings of this research in recent replies on this topic.

While the available evidence does not support the notion that the benefit and privilege rule is a highly significant factor in the movement of young people out of the family home, my Department will, nevertheless, continue to review this provision in the light of any new evidence which becomes available.

The abolition of the assessment of benefit and privilege as means would have significant cost implications.

Jim O'Keeffe


60 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the position in relation to survivor's pension of a widow where the deceased husband had obtained a church annulment and legal separation and subsequently married in church; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2569/98]

Entitlement to a widow's or widower's pension depends, in the first instance, on the status in law of the relationship between the parties prior to the death of one of them. If the parties, at the date of death, were married within the meaning of the laws of this State, then the survivor of that marriage is a widow or widower for the purposes of the social welfare legislation relating to widow's and widower's pensions.

Social welfare legislation contains provisions to ensure that a spouse will not be disadvantaged in terms of his or her social welfare entitlement as a result of their legal status being changed from married, separated or deserted to divorced.
In the circumstances outlined by the Deputy, it is assumed that the initial marriage was recognised in law as valid.
In that event, the survivor of that marriage would be regarded as a widow for social welfare purposes, assuming that she has not herself remarried. A legal separation or a church annulment does not affect the status of the survivor as a widow or widower for social welfare purposes, as the marriage has not in effect been legally disolved. If a marriage is legally dissolved by divorce, the survivor of that marriage continues to be regarded as a widow or widower for social welfare purposes, by virtue of the provisions in social welfare legislation already mentioned.
If the second relationship was entered into without the legal dissolution of the first marriage by a recognised divorce, the second relationship would not constitute a legal marriage under the laws of the State. The survivor of that relationship could not be regarded as a widow of the deceased.
The difficulty inherent in the situation as outlined was one of the reasons for the enactment providing for the legal dissolution of marriage.
I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise the importance to all concerned of ensuring that their marital situation is resolved from a legal as well as a Church perspective in circumstances such as those outlined by the Deputy. If this is done both survivors would be entitled to a widow's pension under the special social welfare arrangements applicable in such circumstances.