Thursday, 25 November 2021
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
62. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the consideration she has given to an urgent review of the current electricity allowance under the household benefits package given the current rising energy costs; the engagement she has had with the Minister for Finance on carrying out a review of the current payment under the package in view of rising inflation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57990/21]
The Household Benefits package (HHB) comprises the electricity or gas allowance, and the free television licence. The package is generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who satisfy a means test. The package is also available to some people under the age of 66, who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments.
My Department will spend approximately €265.48 million this year on HHB for over 480,000 customers. In 2021 the estimated cost of the gas and electricity element of the package is €195.31 million. The gas and electricity element is paid at a rate of €35 per month, 12 months of the year.
In light of ESRI research and the commitment to ensure that the carbon tax is progressive, the Government has committed to very significant increases in a targeted package of social protection supports in Budget 2022. These supports were selected to counteract the impact of the increased carbon tax on low income households. The specific measures are:
- An increase to the Qualified Child Payment of €2 per week for children under 12 and €3 per week for children over 12.
- An increase in the Living Alone Allowance of €3 per week.
- An increase to the Fuel Allowance of €5 per week.
- An increase in the Working Family Payment of €10 per week.
Analysis undertaken estimates that the net impact of the combined measures is progressive. Households in the bottom four income deciles will see all of the cost of the carbon tax increase offset, with the bottom three deciles being better off as a result of these measures.
This is a tangible demonstration of the Government’s commitment to protect vulnerable households from energy poverty.
The Deputy will appreciate that provision of income support is only part of the answer in terms of addressing energy costs. One of the best ways to tackle energy costs in the long term is to improve the energy efficiency of the dwelling through proper building and household insulation. This is the responsibility of the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The SEAI provides a range of schemes in this area including the Better Energy Homes scheme, the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme, the Better Energy Warmth & Wellbeing Pilot Scheme, the Deep Retrofit Pilot Scheme, Better Energy Communities and Free Energy Efficiency Upgrades (co-funded by the Irish Government and European Union and delivered by the SEAI).
Any decision to enhance the HHB package further or to increase the electricity and gas aspect of the package would have budgetary consequences and would have to be considered in the context of overall budget negotiations.
Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, exceptional needs payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which customers are unable to meet out of their own resources, and this may include help towards the cost of utility bills. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis.
I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.