Thursday, 26 November 2015
Department of Social Protection
Household Benefits Scheme
55. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her plans to restore the telephone allowance to pensioners as part of the household benefits package; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42193/15]
The overall concern of Government in its Budgets has been to protect the primary social welfare rates. Expenditure on pensions at approximately €6.675 billion is the largest block of the Department’s expenditure in the Estimate for 2015, representing almost 34.4% of overall expenditure. Because of demographic changes, the Department’s spending on older people is increasing year on year. The Department has had to make provision for an additional €168 million this year for the increasing number of pensioners. Maintaining the rate of the State pension and other core payments is critical in protecting people from poverty.
While the decision to discontinue the telephone allowance was a difficult one it provided annual savings of €48 million and meant that the Department was able to retain the other valuable elements of the household benefits package such as the electricity and gas allowance and the television licence. The Department will spend approx. €227 million this year on these elements of the household benefits package for over 416,000 customers.
I am keenly aware of the impact of Budget decisions on the Department’s clients, and I have sought to ensure that the money available is targeted in the most effective way. In Budget 2016, I was able to announce the first increase in the basic rate of the State pension in seven years, by €3 per week. This will increase the personal rate of the non-contributory pension to €222, and that of the contributory pension to €233.30. I was also pleased to announce a €2.50 increase in the rate of the Fuel Allowance, from €20 to €22.50 per week. I believe that, taken together with other changes, such as increasing the Christmas Bonus to 75% of weekly rate, the impact of this Budget will be very positive for older people.