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 375,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €240 million in 2019. 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.
My Department also pays an electricity or gas allowance under the Household benefits scheme at an estimated cost of €187 million in 2019. This is paid at a rate of €35 per month, 12 months of the year. This comes to €420 per annum, or €8 per week, plus free TV licence, travel etc. It's worth noting that Jobseekers Allowance is not a qualifying payment for this benefit, nor the other benefits available under the Household Benefits scheme.
The Government values the role of carers very much and it is for this reason that they receive significant income supports from the Department. In addition to carer’s allowance carers receive additional support in the form of free travel and household benefits (for those who live with the person for whom they care) and the annual carers support grant (€1700) in respect of each person for whom they care.
If a person is getting certain qualifying social welfare payments and also providing full time care and attention to another person, they can keep their main social protection payment and get the half-rate carer's allowance as well. They can also receive an extra half-rate carer’s allowance if they care for more than one person.
The maximum rates of Carer's Allowance, at €219 for where one person is being cared for, and €328.50 where there are two or more carees, is significantly higher than that for Jobseekers Allowance, which is €203 for those aged 26, and lower for younger claimants. In addition to this higher rate, the means test for Carer's Allowance is very significantly more generous than that which applies to Jobseekers Allowance, which widens further the gap in payments between Carers and Jobseekers. Also, Fuel Allowance is a household-based payment, and a Carer will very often live with and be caring for a person with a qualifying payment for Fuel Allowance. A similar household, where the person received Jobseekers Allowance instead of Carers Allowance, would have the same rate of Fuel Allowance, as only one payment is permitted per household.
It would not be accurate, therefore, to suggest that those in receipt of Carer's Allowance are in a less advantageous position than those paid Jobseekers Allowance. Even when the more generous means test is not taken into account, and even during the Fuel Allowance season, the payments made to Carer's Allowance recipients, including Electricity/Gas payments, are higher than those made to those in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance.
It should also be noted that the payment of half-rate carer’s allowance does not preclude a person from qualifying for fuel allowance. If a person is in receipt of a non-contributory social welfare payment and a half-rate carer’s allowance, then they are deemed to have satisfied the means test and fuel allowance is payable subject to all remaining criteria being satisfied. If a person is in receipt of a contributory social welfare payment and a half-rate carer’s allowance then they will have to undergo a means test for fuel allowance.
Any decision to amend the criteria for receiving fuel allowance to include carer’s allowance as a qualifying payment would have to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.
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 cost.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.