Tuesday, 10 February 2004

Ceisteanna (391, 392, 393, 394)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

467 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people likely to be affected by the regulations preventing them from obtaining rent allowance for the first six months of their tenancy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4371/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

471 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will assess the restrictions as an expenditure cutback in view of the vulnerability of people likely to be affected by the restrictions on eligibility for rent supplement, and in view of the several meetings held with the Department of Finance ; if the failure to hold even a personal meeting with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to plan and develop a co-ordinated programme for social housing support to protect the most disadvantaged in Irish society was appropriate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3939/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

473 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number and nature of consultations and meetings held between her Department and the Departments of Finance and of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the health boards, prior to the changes in the rent supplement eligibility rules being introduced in the 2004 Book of Estimates; if she has estimated the number of persons that may be pushed into further deprivation through the changes to the rent supplement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4050/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 467, 471, and 473 together.

Subject to certain conditions, the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation needs.

As the Deputies are aware I have recently introduced a number of changes to the rent supplement scheme. These measures are designed to ensure that rent supplement is paid in appropriate circumstances, in accordance with established policy and taking into account the objective of the scheme, which is to focus on meeting immediate, short-term income maintenance needs.

Specific provision has been made to ensure that the interests of vulnerable groups such as the homeless, elderly and disabled are fully protected in the course of implementing the new measures.

Anyone who is assessed by a housing authority as having a housing need and who meets the existing qualifying criteria will receive rent supplement.

The discretion of a health board to make a payment in exceptional circumstances where a board considers that the circumstances of the case so warrant will not be affected by the changes. In effect, the only people who will no longer qualify because of the six month rule are people who in the opinion of the local authority do not have a housing need. It is anticipated that up to 2,000 fewer claims for rent supplement will arise in 2004 as a result of the new six month rule. Given the careful manner in which these changes are being implemented I do not anticipate that any person will be pushed into deprivation as a result of these measures.

The measures will be implemented in the context of a greater role for local authorities in meeting the long-term housing needs of people who currently rely on rent supplement. This will achieve a better outcome both for the people involved and for the State. Following the announcement of the changes in November 2003 and prior to the introduction of the regulations which gave effect to the changes in January 2004, my Department initiated contacts and consultations with health board representatives as well as officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

In addition to these contacts, a number of meetings took place prior to the estimate announcements between officials of my Department, the Departments of Finance and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the future of rent assistance. Contrary to media reports the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and I have had several discussions on these and related matters.

Question No. 468 withdrawn.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

469 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is entitled to a social welfare payment other than widows pension; if this person is entitled to unemployment benefit. [3717/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The person concerned is in receipt of the maximum rate of contributory widow's pension and is not entitled concurrently to unemployment benefit. However, if she is unemployed, available for and genuinely seeking work she should contact her social welfare local office as she may have an entitlement to credited contributions.