I propose to take Questions Nos. 866 and 867 together.
The household benefits package (HHB) comprises the electricity or gas allowance, and the free television licence. My Department will spend approximately €248 million this year on HHB for over 446,000 customers. The package is generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who satisfy a means test. The package is also available to some people under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments.
Since 1 April 2012, new applicants in receipt of Carer's Allowance who are not living with the person for whom they provide care do not have an automatic entitlement to the household benefits package. Carers who live with the person they are caring for still have an entitlement of their own to the household benefits package and do not have to satisfy the household composition criteria.
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 carer's support grant (€1,700) in respect of each person for whom they care. Where a person is in receipt of certain qualifying social welfare payments, and also providing full-time care and attention to another person, they can keep their primary social welfare payment and also get the half-rate carer's allowance.
It should be noted that carer's payments are made at a higher level than other working-age income maintenance payments made by my Department. The weekly rate for Carer's Allowance is €219 where one person is being cared for, and €328.50 where it is two or more, compared to €203 for most other income maintenance payments to those below pension age. The means test for Carer's Allowance is also significantly more generous than those applying to other schemes.
Any decision to change the qualifying criteria for HHB would have budgetary consequences and would have to be considered in the context of budget negotiations.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.