Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Social Welfare Payments

3:20 pm

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

The household benefits, HHB, package comprises the electricity or gas allowance and a free television licence. The Department of Social Protection will spend approximately €273 million this year on the HHB package for more than 484,000 customers and their households. The package is available as a supplementary allowance to those in receipt of various social welfare payments, including but not limited to the carer's allowance, the State contributory and non-contributory pensions, and the widow, widower's or surviving civil partner's contributory pension. The electricity allowance is paid to all recipients, regardless of domestic meter type. The package is generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of social welfare-type payment or who satisfy a means test. It is also available to some people under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare-type payments.

As part of the overall welfare budget package of €600 million in increases the Minister for Social Protection secured in 2022, she was pleased to be able to increase the fuel allowance payment by €5 per week, effective from budget night. This brought the weekly rate of payment to €33. In addition, as part of the budget, she increased the weekly income threshold for fuel allowance by €20, bringing it to €373.30 per individual. The fact fuel allowance is a means-tested payment ensures it is targeted at those most in need of it. These targeted increases were informed by ESRI research that indicated that certain household types, such as those living alone, were at higher risk of poverty than other households.

The Government is acutely aware of the increases in consumer prices in recent months, especially in regard to fuel and other energy prices. To mitigate the effects of these rising costs, it has announced additional expenditure measures totalling more than €500 million, which will make a positive impact on the incomes of all households. The issue is multifaceted and the Government has responded across a range of Departments’ services. As part of these measures, an additional lump sum payment of €125 will be paid to all households in receipt of the fuel allowance payment. It is expected this will be paid soon, within the month, at an estimated cost of €49 million. An energy credit of €200 including VAT, which is estimated to impact just over 2 million households, will be paid in April. Furthermore, a temporary 20% reduction in public transport fares will apply from April until the end of the year. The original Sláintecare report proposed a reduction in the drugs payment scheme from €144 to €100, and the Government has decided to reduce this further, to €80. This will benefit just over 70,000 families. The working family payment, increased on budget day, will be brought forward from 1 June to 1 April. Caps in respect of multiple children on school transport fees will be reduced to €500 per family at post-primary and €150 for primary school children.

The recently announced electricity costs emergency benefit payment is a key measure being developed by the Government to mitigate the effects of the recent unprecedented increase in electricity prices. The scheme, under the auspices of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and supervised by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, will be paid in addition to the gas and electricity element of the HHB package to qualifying households. Approximately 2.1 million households will benefit by €200 from the new scheme. The President recently signed the required legislation and it is expected payments will begin in April 2022. Furthermore, due to the continuing rise in inflation as part of the economic consequences of the tragic conflict in Ukraine, the Government decided yesterday to reduce excise duty on fuel, with effect from midnight last night. The Department of Social Protection operates both an exceptional and urgent-needs payment as part of a supplementary welfare allowance scheme for people who have an urgent need they cannot meet from their own resources. These payments are available through community welfare officers, with whom all of us will be familiar.

All further measures will be considered, while taking account of the overall Government policy and budgetary constraints. The Government will keep these measures under constant review, with a focus on the cost of living, not least for the most vulnerable in society.


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