The fuel allowance is a payment of €22.50 per week for 27 weeks from October to April, to over 338,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €227 million in 2018. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household. On the 6th December 2017 my colleague the Minister of Communications, Climate Action and Environment announced that the ban on the sale of smoky coal in the existing zones, which has been in place in larger towns for some time, will be extended countrywide from autumn of 2018.
When the initial ban on smoky coal was introduced in larger towns my Department introduced a smog/smokeless allowance for the anticipated higher cost of smokeless fuel. However this was discontinued in 2011 as the price differential between smoky and smokeless coal has dropped considerably over the years. Smokeless fuel is also more energy efficient than conventional coal, more than offsetting any increase in cost. Research indicates that the efficiency gain can be up to 50%.
Taking this into account I have no plans at this time to increase fuel allowance to offset the higher cost of smokeless fuel. Any decision to do so would have to be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.
Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, exceptional needs payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which customers are unable to meet out of their own resources and this may include exceptional heating costs.
The best way to tackle fuel poverty in the long term is to improve the energy efficiency of the dwelling. My Department works closely with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to help identify people in energy poverty who are living with chronic respiratory conditions so they can avail of the Warmth and Wellbeing Scheme which aims to make homes warmer and healthier to live in.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.