The fuel allowance is a payment of €22.50 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €630 each year) from October to April, to over 372,000 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.
The criteria for fuel allowance are framed in order to direct the limited resources available to my Department in as targeted a manner as possible. Therefore, to receive the fuel allowance a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment from my Department and also have satisfied a means test.
Fuel allowance can only be paid if the qualifying criteria are met and cannot be paid on a discretionary basis. However, 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. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis.
The best way to tackle fuel poverty in the long term is to improve the energy efficiency of the dwelling. My Department works with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on these issues and in moving forward the actions agreed in the Energy Affordability Strategy. In that regard, the Better Energy Homes scheme provides support towards the installation of attic and wall insulation, and heating system upgrades.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.