I propose to take Questions Nos. 307 and 308 together.
The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a rent supplement to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible persons who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.
As the Deputy is aware I have made two changes in the conditions for receipt of rent supplement. First, to ensure that bona fide tenants may access rent supplement in appropriate circumstances I have abolished the six months prior renting requirement. Rent supplement may now be paid in cases where the applicants had established himself or herself in rented accommodation from within his or her own resources, with an expectation that this would continue into the future, and then suffers a change in circumstances such as redundancy or serious illness, with the result that he or she can no longer afford the rent. Rent supplement continues to be payable where a person is homeless or where a housing authority affirms that the applicant has a housing need, and in other specific situations. Second, I have eased the rules relating to the refusal of local authority accommodation. Up to now rent supplement was not payable where a person refused, within a 12 month period, a second offer of local authority accommodation. Rent supplement now may be paid unless a person has refused, within an eighteen month period, three offers of accommodation from a local authority.
In addition to these changes I have also eased the means test for rent supplement. The amount of additional income from part-time employment, participation in approved training courses and a portion of maintenance payments to be disregarded has been increased from €50 to €60 per week. Regulations have been made to give effect to these changes from 31 January 2005 and the revised rent supplement conditions have been advised to community welfare staff by way of the circular from my Department to which the Deputy refers. None of the measures which I have introduced affect the existing discretion available to the community welfare service to pay rent supplement where it considers that the exceptional circumstances or special needs of the applicant so warrant. This long-standing discretionary power was restated in the new regulations and in the circular for community welfare staff for clarity.