Written answers

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Department of Social and Family Affairs

Social Welfare Code

7:00 pm

Photo of Michael NoonanMichael Noonan (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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Question 92: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of cases of supplementary welfare allowance rent supplement paid out in each of the respective years from 2002 and to date in 2006; the amount paid out in each of these years respectively; the average weekly payment made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43298/06]

Photo of Séamus BrennanSéamus Brennan (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes rent supplement, is administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare division of the Health Service Executive. The purpose of the scheme is to provide short-term income support, in the form of a weekly or monthly payment, to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

The number of tenants benefiting from rent supplementation under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme has increased by over 10% since 2002. At the end of 2005 there were just over 60,000 people in receipt of a supplement, at an annual expenditure of just under €370m. Average weekly payment in 2002 was €94.88 increasing to €101.77 in 2005. At the end of November 2006, the number of beneficiaries has reduced to 59,807 with the average weekly payment at €103.13. Details of the number of recipients and expenditure for each of the respective years 2002 to 2006 are provided in the attached tabular statement.

The scheme has developed beyond the original objective of providing short-term assistance with accommodation. A significant number of people have now come to rely on rent supplementation for extended periods, including people on local authority housing lists. For this reason, the scheme has to be viewed in the context of overall housing policy, particularly in the case of long-term claimants.

In response to this situation, the Government has introduced new rental assistance arrangements including the rental accommodation scheme (RAS) giving local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the longer-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement for 18 months or more, on a phased implementation basis. When fully operational, local authorities will meet the housing needs of these individuals through a range of approaches including the traditional range of social housing options, the voluntary housing sector and, in particular, a new public/private partnership type rental accommodation scheme.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has indicated that at the end of November 2006 almost 2,600 tenants have been accommodated under the Rental Accommodation Scheme and a further 1,900 families accommodated in Social Housing. It is projected that by the end of 2006, between 4,500 and 5,000 tenants will have transferred from rent supplement to accommodation provided by local authorities either through the RAS or some other type of social housing, rising to 10,000 by the end of 2007.

Appendix 1: Recipients and Expenditure on Rent Supplement and Average Rent Supplements, at end 2002 to Date
YearRecipientsAnnual ExpenditureAverage Weekly Supplement% paid weeklyAverage Monthly Supplement% paid monthly
€m
200254,213252.3494.8878651.6522
200359,976331.4797.0775715.9625
200457,874353.76100.0072752.9128
200560,176368.70101.7771768.4729
1/12/0659,807*323.66103.1371768.2529
* End October 2006.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Question 94: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number benefiting from the fuel allowance; the categories of people entitled to it; the effect of electricity and gas price rises in the context of household benefits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43157/06]

Photo of Gerard MurphyGerard Murphy (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Question 100: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has given consideration to extending the duration of payment of the fuel allowance by two weeks, four weeks and eight weeks respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43295/06]

Photo of Arthur MorganArthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Question 108: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of old age pensioners out of the total number who receive the fuel allowance. [43254/06]

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Roscommon, Fianna Fail)
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Question 115: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people that qualify for the fuel allowance; the way qualification is determined; the changes that have been made to the fuel allowance recently; their expected impact; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43158/06]

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Question 117: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people who have been refused the fuel allowance due to a family member residing with them, each year for the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43300/06]

Photo of Séamus BrennanSéamus Brennan (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 94, 100, 108, 115 and 117 together.

The national fuel scheme assists householders on long-term social welfare or health service executive (HSE) payments with meeting the cost of their heating needs during the heating season. Fuel allowances are paid for 29 weeks from end-September to mid-April. The allowance represents a contribution towards a person's normal heating expenses. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Improvements to the fuel allowance in recent years include an easing of the means test, extending the duration of payment from 26 to 29 weeks and a doubling of the rate of payment in the last two budgets. In Budget 2007, I have provided for an increase in the rate of fuel allowance of €4 from €14 to €18 (€21.90 in designated smokeless areas) and I have also increased the income threshold for eligibility to fuel allowance by €49 from €51 to €100 above the state pension (contributory) rate.

Some 274,000 people will benefit in 2006 at an estimated annual cost €125m. As a consequence of the increase in rate announced in the recent budget, annual expenditure on the scheme in 2007 will increase by €31.8m to €156.9m. Just over 89,500 of the 274,000 people in receipt of fuel allowance are recipients of a state pension contributory or non-contributory scheme. Statistics are not available on the number of fuel allowance applications refused on the basis of a non-qualifying family member residing with the claimant.

The main conditions that apply to the fuel allowance scheme are that a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment, satisfy a means test and must either be living alone or only with a qualifying dependant. The household composition and means test rules for fuel allowance scheme qualifying purposes is to ascertain the ability of applicant households to meet their normal heating requirements out of their own resources and to ensure that the maximum amount of support is targeted at those most in need of the fuel allowance support.

People who already qualify for means-tested pensions or allowances such as state pension (non-contributory), long-term jobseeker's assistance or one-parent family payment do not have to undergo a further means test to qualify for fuel allowance. The majority of people who receive fuel allowances qualify because they satisfy the relevant means test for their primary weekly payment. In the case of contributory pensions such as state pension (contributory), state pension (transition) and invalidity pensions, which are not means tested, from January 2007 a person may have a combined household income of up to €100 per week, over and above the maximum state pension (contributory) rate (or savings/investments of up to €58,000) and still qualify for fuel allowance. The fuel allowance income limits increase each season in line with the increases in the state pension (contributory) rate.

Some 340,000 pensioner and other households qualify for electricity or gas allowances through the household benefits package, payable towards their heating, light and cooking costs throughout the year, at an overall cost of €119 million in 2006. From 1 January 2007 the Electricity Allowance is being increased from 1,800 units to 2,400 units including normal standing charges and VAT with a pro-rata increase applied on the gas effective from October 2006. In effect, the cash value of these allowances was set at €516 per annum from October 2006 for gas customers and from January 2007 for electricity customers. An additional annual increase of €33 will also be applied to those ESB customers who pay the higher rate rural standing charges, bringing the total cash value of the allowance in their case to €549 per annum.

Following the latest downward price adjustment for electricity announced by CER on 4 December 2006, I have decided to maintain the value of the allowances at €516 per annum and €549 for rural electricity customers which will further increase the value of the allowance to customers through the provision of additional units for the same price outlay. These improvements represent an immediate response by the Government to concerns arising regarding increases in energy costs experienced during the year.

The increase in the rate of fuel allowance to €18 per week as announced as part of Budget 2007 will provide over 274,000 people currently entitled to the allowance with additional help towards meeting their heating costs. The increase in the income threshold to €100 above the maximum state pension (contributory) will allow more people to qualify for fuel allowance. Up to 8,000 additional people are expected to qualify for fuel allowance as a result. Fuel allowances are incorporated in the recipient's weekly social welfare payment. The Government's objective is to ensure that the recipient's total weekly income, including the fuel allowance, is sufficient to meet all of their income needs, including heating costs.

Budget resources are concentrated on providing significant real increases over and above inflation each year in all primary social welfare pension, benefit and assistance rates. The increases of €16 and €18 per week in the rates of payment for contributory and non-contributory pensions respectively announced in the recent budget is a continuation of this policy. (This is a more costly approach than increasing fuel allowances as the increase is paid for the full year and not just for the 29 weeks of the winter heating season). This approach delivers a good outcome for pensioners and others by substantially increasing their income in real terms over the whole year, to better assist them in meeting their normal basic living costs, including heating. Income maintenance measures for social welfare recipients are significant with rates of payments increased in the context of each budget strategy.

At the proposed 2007 fuel allowance rate of €18, an increase of two weeks, four weeks and eight weeks in the duration of the fuel season would cost an extra €10.8m, €21.6 and €43.2m per annum respectively. I will continue to monitor the scheme to ensure it reaches those most in need.

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