Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Question 6: To ask the Minister for Social Protection if he will publish the specific guidelines for accessing the €10 million humanitarian assistance package; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36282/11]
In recognition of the devastation suffered by many families as a result of the recent floods, the Government decided on 8 November 2011 that it was to provide up to €10 million in income-tested financial support to people who have suffered damage to their homes.
Officials from the Department of Social Protection have made house to house calls to individuals they have identified as being vulnerable at this difficult time and have been in contact with some 700 individuals who have been affected to some degree by the flooding. Special clinics were also established to offer help to affected households. Up to 18 November 2011, 443 individual payments to a value of some €122,000 have been awarded to 310 individuals in the affected areas.
The main details of the humanitarian assistance scheme are as follows. It is to be administered on the ground by staff from the Department of Social Protection. For the most part, these are staff who were formerly community welfare officers working in the HSE who transferred to the Department of Social Protection on 1 October. The scheme will provide hardship alleviation assistance, as opposed to full compensation, to householders affected by the flooding. Damage to a person's home and its basic essential contents, such as carpets, flooring, furniture, household appliances and bedding, will be the main criteria but structural damage may also be considered. Eligibility will be subject to an income test. Assistance will not be given for losses which are covered by insurance. Commercial and business losses will not qualify for humanitarian assistance. Detailed information on the scheme is available on the Department's website at www.welfare.ie.
The Government has also established a cross-departmental and agency working group, chaired by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, to oversee the State's collective response to those affected by the flooding. This working group will identify any gaps that may exist within existing services to address the consequences of the flooding for individuals, families and communities. If additional services are required, the group will report to Government with proposals to address these issues.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
As the Deputy will be aware a similar allocation of €10 million was made available as a result of the 2009 floods. I expect that my Department will spend in excess of €4 million with a further €16.4 million spent by the local authorities and over €0.5 million by the Department of Agriculture and Food on fodder relief for farmers, making a total spend of over €21 million.
We need to understand the severity of this problem. In a series of locations in my area, namely, Blackrock, Sallynoggin and Stradbrook, and I suspect this is also the case elsewhere in the city and across the country, people have been repeat victims of flooding. It keeps happening in the same places and the consequences of it have been devastating. Flood waters mixed with sewage have washed through people's homes. The inside of their homes have been utterly ruined and walls have been knocked down in some cases. Backgarden walls have been washed away and have smashed into houses behind them. People were forced out of their homes and are still out of them because of the damage done and they have to pay for alternative accommodation.
The key point is that this was not a natural disaster. The fact that it has happened repeatedly in the same places points to the fact that it was a man-made disaster arising from the chronic failure to invest in water and drainage infrastructure in those places where it has been known for many year, in some cases decades, that there was a serious problem.
There has also been a failure on the part of planners to insist on proper water and drainage infrastructure when development was taking place, which means more water has been displaced and flooding got worse. All the places that have been flooded indicate that the flooding has got worse. Therefore, there should be no restrictions on the compensation provided for flood victims because it was not their fault.
I ask the Minister to remove the application of means-testing to funds under this scheme, to provide an insurance scheme for repeat flood victims who cannot get insurance because of the effect of flooding on their homes-----
I had an opportunity privately to visit a number of areas and families in the Dublin region who suffered from flooding. I am very grateful to the families who let me into their homes which were badly affected by the flooding and, as the Deputy said, in quite a few cases by repeat flooding in parts of Cabra, Tallaght and Donnycarney. Certainly families and individuals have suffered grievously from the floods.
The Deputy should understand that the responsibility of the Department of Social Protection is to provide the humanitarian assistance, which is immediate assistance, and then also to help with buying and replacing appliances such as fridges, freezers and so on.
The Deputy referred to cases where perhaps homes may need to be rebuilt or a family whose house was built on a flood plain may need to be relocated. Following the floods of 2009, with which the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be very familiar, Galway was very affected as were areas all along the River Shannon basin. Numbers of families have been relocated. It is possible for families to get assistance with accommodation costs if they have to move out of their homes but this must be done on a means-tested basis because of the restricted resources of the Department in regard to accommodation, house replacement or significant rebuilding of structures. I have asked the Government-----
It should be pointed out to the other Departments that are linked into addressing this issue that there needs to be a co-ordinated strategy to deal with all aspects of it in terms of insurance and dealing with the drainage and water infrastructure. With regard to the Minister's brief, I have received many reports of there being great inconsistency in what community welfare officers are willing to give people who call to them. In one place a person will get nothing while in other places the response in terms of humanitarian assistance is quite generous. Therefore, we need these guidelines. A number of community welfare officers contacted by my office stated they had no guidelines. Either they did not know what the guidelines were or there was uncertainty about them. There is a need for clarity and generosity when it comes to dealing with people who are innocent victims of the failure of various authorities to deal with this problem.
Has a request been made for additional moneys to top up the amount the Government has announced? Is it possible for community welfare officers to have a degree of flexibility and discretion when engaging in means tests? I am aware of a family which was €50 above the threshold, but it had bills and debts which were not taken into account. If flexibility was allowed, they could have some furniture in the house.
Community welfare officers were employed by the HSE but are now in the Department of Social Protection. They used to go out and knock on doors in various parts of the city where they were aware of people enduring hardship, particularly older people or those on social welfare. I am sure Deputy Ó Snodaigh knows this and has seen the devastation caused. The devastation I saw was absolutely appalling. The job of community welfare officers is to assist. I, therefore, advise the Deputy to meet the appropriate social welfare officers in the areas about which he is speaking because the guidelines are available on the Department's website and can be interpreted sympathetically by them. However, the matter is subject to a means test for reasons the Deputy understands.
I asked the Government and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has agreed to establish a special interdepartmental committee to deal with this issue. Following the floods in Galway and the disastrous floods in Cork, money was spent in providing humanitarian relief. Significant amounts were spent on relocating people, while flood relief works were undertaken by the OPW. If it is a recurring problem, there is only one solution. In Dublin, one month's rainfall fell in a couple of hours. These 100 year events seem to be happening more frequently now. It is hoped the interdepartmental committee will produce greater clarity in the actions various agencies take, including in planning.