Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Fuel Allowance Payments
1257. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to further extend the fuel allowance in view of the continuing Covid-19 crisis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6455/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1201 and 1257 together.
The fuel allowance is a payment of €24.50 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €686 for the fuel season) from October to April, to over 369,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €261 million in 2020. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.
The fuel allowance is an important measure that assists pensioners and other welfare dependent householders to address income deficiency, especially during the winter when a household faces increased heating needs. The duration of the scheme is designed to coincide with the coldest periods of the year and it is for this reason the scheme runs from October to early-April.
On the 31st March, in order to support vulnerable households during the COVID-19 emergency, I was delighted to announce the extension of the fuel season by four weeks for existing eligible customers on a once-off basis. At an overall cost to the Exchequer of €36.61m, this extended the payment of €24.50 per week from Friday 10 April (when it was due to expire) until Friday 8 May 2020 and provided these vulnerable households with additional targeted financial supports in a timely, efficient and time bound manner. This extension meant that the 2019/2020 Fuel Season ran to the latest end date of any season in the last 30 years.
While I fully understand that these are difficult and distressing times for many people, especially for the vulnerable and the elderly, any further economic measures, such as further extending the fuel allowance season, can only be considered while taking account of the overall budgetary context and the availability of financial resources. In the context of the COVID-19 emergency, the Government has already allocated c. €2.4 billion to a package of social protection measures.
Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme a special heating supplement may be paid to assist people in certain circumstances. Exceptional needs payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost, which an applicant is unable to meet from his / her own resources.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.