Thursday, 25 November 2021
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Social Welfare Benefits
19. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will implement the increase in the means test for the fuel allowance with immediate effect as of midnight of Budget 2022. [57548/21]
The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €33.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €924 each year) from October to April, to 369,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. 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.
We made a number of considerable reforms to the fuel allowance scheme in Budget 2022, including:
- An increase in the weekly rate of fuel allowance by €5 with immediate effect from Budget night was also introduced bringing it to €33. This benefited 398,000 households immediately with a full year cost in 2022 of just under €55.8 million.
- The qualifying period for Jobseeker’s and Supplementary Welfare Allowance recipients was reduced from 15 to 12 months with effect from September 2022. This is expected to benefit some 3,300 households.
- The original intention was to introduce the revised means test for the Free Fuel Allowance on 1st January 2022, increasing the weekly threshold by €20 to €120 representing a 20% increase enabling more people to qualify for this support. Cognisant of rising fuel costs, I asked my officials to prioritise the work required so that this change could be implemented at the same time as the increase in the Fuel Allowance in October 2021. I am happy to tell the Deputy that this work will be completed at the end of this week with the effective date for the implementation of the revised means test now backdated to the Budget.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.
20. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will engage with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to find a solution to the situation in which parents in education are seeing a substantial loss of income in cases in which they are moved from the jobseeker's transitional payment to the back to education allowance when their child turns 14 years of age due to the impact it has on SUSI support; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57970/21]
I understand that the issue raised refers to the fact that applicants approved for the Back to Education Allowance, including those transferring from the Jobseeker's Transition scheme, are not eligible for a maintenance grant from SUSI. Whereas the Jobseeker's Allowance Transition payment is an eligible payment for the special rate of maintenance grant.
The rules around the eligibility for the SUSI grant are a matter for the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The Programme for Government contains commitments to review SUSI eligibility criteria, adjacency rates and postgraduate grant supports. A Steering Committee has been established to provide direction for the external consultants undertaking the review which contains representation from my Department.
I understand that this review is at an advanced stage and it is expected that the final Report will be brought to Government for approval once approved by that Minister.
Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund.
While supports for students are not the primary responsibility for my Department, I should also advise the Deputy of the availability of the Cost of Education Allowance paid by my Department which provides €500 per academic year to back to education recipients who have a dependent child or children, which assists lone parents accessing education.
I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.