Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Oct 2000

Vol. 523 No. 5

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin


232 Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of people in receipt of rent allowance; the level of expenditure in County Kerry in this regard in 2000; the number in 1999; and the level of expenditure for that year. [21541/00]

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, a weekly supplement may be paid in respect of rent or mortgage interest to people in receipt of social welfare or health board payments. Entitlement to a supplement is determined by the health boards and supplements are normally calculated to ensure that the person, after payment of rent or mortgage interest, has an income equal to the rate of SWA appropriate to the family circumstances, less £6. This £6 represents the minimum contribution which clients are required to pay from their own resources. Applicants are also required to contribute any assessable means in excess of the appropriate basic supplementary welfare allowance rate towards their rent or mortgage interest supplement.

There are currently 42,462 people in receipt of a rent supplement. Of these, 988 people reside in County Kerry. At the end of December 1999 there were 41,873 rent supplements in payment of which 999 were in County Kerry.
In 1999, total expenditure on rent supplements was approximately £101 million. Of this approximately £1.75 million relates to rent supplements in County Kerry. To date, expenditure in 2000 on rent supplements is approximately £89.6 million of which £1.41 million relates to County Kerry.

Dinny McGinley


233 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the escalating costs of fuel such as coal and oil; and if he will increase the free fuel allowance paid to old age pensioners and other social welfare recipients in view of these added costs. [21543/00]

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 payment of £5 per week, £8 per week in smokeless zones is paid to eligible households for 26 weeks from mid-October to mid-April.

The national and smokeless fuel schemes were reviewed in 1998 as part of my Department's ser ies of programme evaluations. The review group took the view that improvements in the national fuel scheme cannot be looked at in isolation from the improvements in the primary weekly payment rates. The group concluded that the present rates of payment should remain unchanged if improvements in primary payment rates fully compensated recipients for all price inflation, including fuel price inflation. Increasing primary payments gives people greater flexibility in meeting their needs and, of course, the increased rates are payable for all 52 weeks of the year. I am aware that an increase of almost 7.9% was recorded in the fuel and light component of the CPI in the 12 months up to last August. I am concerned about the extent to which general price inflation, including fuel price inflation, is impacting on the significant improvements in social welfare payments implemented in the last three budgets. I cannot give specific details of the measures that will be contained in this year's budget but improving the overall position of social welfare recipients will receive a very high priority in that budget.
In the meantime, I wish to point out that fuel allowances are not the sole mechanism through which assistance is provided to people with heating needs. There is a facility available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to assist people in certain circumstances who have special heating needs. An application for a heating supplement may be made by contacting the community welfare officer at the local health centre.
Where a person would not normally qualify for a heating supplement there is provision under the SWA scheme to pay an exceptional needs payment. ENPs are payable at the discretion of the health board taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case.

Noel Ahern


234 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will clarify the situation of a person (details supplied) who is on long-term disability benefit; the number of times in the past five years her situation has been reviewed; if this is done on a random basis; if medical opinion from a previous review is not taken into account; and if he will finalise this case as soon as possible in view of the fact this person is frequently being put through the stress of her case being reviewed. [21592/00]

The person concerned is in receipt of disability benefit since 26 March 1992. In the past five years the person has been referred for medical assessment on three different occasions. The certified cause of incapacity usually determines the date of the initial assessment. The frequency of subsequent assessments is normally based on the medical assessor's opinion. All medical evidence available is reviewed by the assessor.

The person concerned was found to be capable of work following a medical assessment on 21 August 2000. A deciding officer disallowed payment of disability benefit from 29 August 2000. The person has appealed the decision and in this connection a further medical examination by a different medical assessor has been arranged for 24 October 2000. The person's entitlement to disability benefit will be reviewed in the light of the result of this examination and, if necessary her case will be referred to an appeals officer for decision. In the meantime the person is receiving unemployment benefit.
The regulations governing entitlement to disability benefit require that adequate medical control is exercised. This control is exercised through the medical review system and in this regard a person may be referred for medical assessment from time to time during the period of their claim.

Noel Ahern


235 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will clarify the situation in relation to free schemes for a widow over 70 whose husband had the free schemes as he was over 75; if she qualifies while an adult daughter lives in the house; if he will have considerations made into changing the regulations in the coming budget and allow retention of the free schemes in cases such as this where the surviving spouse is over 66 or 70. [21593/00]

Since June 1997 any person aged 75 or over in receipt of a qualifying pension payment is entitled to the free schemes regardless of income or household composition. From October 2000 this entitlement is extended to persons not in receipt of a qualifying payment.

Widows or widowers under the age 66 are not entitled to the various free schemes, although those aged 60-65 may retain any free scheme entitlement of their late spouse provided they continue to meet the "household composition" conditions for eligibility. At age 66, they can qualify in their own right but subject also to satisfying the "household composition" conditions. This means that the person must be living alone or only with certain excepted categories of people. This would preclude entitlement in cases where there is another adult member in the household who is in full-time employment. In situations where the applicant is incapacitated and another member of the household is caring for them, that carer can work for up to ten hours per week and still be considered an excepted person.

I understand that the Deputy has in mind a situation where the daughter who is residing in the household is engaged in full-time employment. In that event, the daughter could not be considered as an excepted person for the purposes of the free schemes under current rules, and the person concerned would not be entitled to these allowances as a result.

Proposals for changes in the free schemes conditions would have to be considered in the context of other priorities and in a budgetary context.

Noel Ahern


236 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the increased payment of PRSI which would be necessary, if paid equally by employer and employee, to introduce an enhanced income continuance payment of, for example, £50 or £100 per week to surviving widows or widowers with dependent children; the cost to his Department to introduce such a scheme for existing qualified persons; if he will have considerations made into introducing such a self-financing scheme for widows while they have qualifying children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21594/00]

There were 8,574 recipients of widow/er's contributory pension with at least one qualifying child at the end of August 2000. The provision of an additional payment of £50 per week to such recipients would cost approximately £22.3 million per annum. If this additional payment were to be funded equally by increases in the rates of employee and employer PRSI, an increase of 0.09% in the main employee rate – 4.5% – would be required along with an increase of 0.05% in both the lower – 8.5% and standard – 12% – rates of employer PRSI. The cost of a similar payment at a rate of £100 per week would be £44.6 million per annum. This would require an increase of 0.18% in the main employee rate and increase of 0.11% in both the lower and standard rates of employer PRSI, if it were to be funded in the same manner.

Any consideration of this issue would have to have regard to the situation of widowed persons with at least one qualified child in receipt of one-parent family payment. Entitlement to one-parent family payment is not based on payment of social insurance contributions. It is means-tested and funded directly by the Exchequer. Of the total of 70,000 receiving one-parent family payment who are caring for children, about 1,300 are widowed persons while the others are separated persons, unmarried persons and prisoners' spouses.

Any increases in the rates of payments to widows and widowers can only be considered in a budgetary context.