Thursday, 2 December 2021
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Social Welfare Benefits
99. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will introduce access to free travel for persons with epilepsy who due to their condition are unable to drive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [59551/21]
The free travel scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators. There are currently approximately 1,012,000 customers with direct eligibility. The estimated expenditure on free travel in 2021 is €95 million.
I assume the Deputy is referring to the campaign by Epilepsy Ireland. I intend to meet with representatives to discuss their proposal in detail and will ask officials in my Department to examine the matter.
However, it is really important to note that, in general, access to a free travel pass for those aged under 66 is linked to a person being in receipt of certain primary Social Protection payments such as Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension, Carer’s Allowance, Blind Pension and Partial Capacity Benefit. Crucially as many illnesses or physical conditions have an impact across a spectrum from mild to severe, entitlement to these schemes is not provided on the basis of a simple diagnosis but on the basis of the impact of that diagnosis on the individual concerned. In this way resources can be targeted to people with most need. Therefore, while a diagnosis of a particular medical condition will be required to establish if a person may be eligible for certain social welfare schemes, evidence of impact is also required before entitlement to the scheme or the related free travel scheme is established. The sole exception to this general approach is in respect of people who are blind.
It is also important to note that there are a range of disabilities and medical conditions that can prevent a person from holding a driving licence and to award a free travel pass to a person with any one of these conditions in isolation would immediately result in calls for all people who are not allowed to hold a driving licence because of their medical condition to receive the free travel pass and could result in challenges under the Equal Status Act.
While consideration is always given to any requests to improve or extend eligibility to the free travel scheme, uncoupling the link between receipt of particular social welfare payments and eligibility for the free travel scheme would so fundamentally alter the scheme that it would move it away from being a social welfare measure to being a general transport initiative.
The Deputy will be aware that under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, my Department may award a travel supplement, where the circumstances of the particular case so warrant. The supplement is intended to assist with ongoing or recurring travel costs that cannot be met from the client’s own resources and are deemed to be necessary. Every decision is based on consideration of the circumstances of the individual case, taking account of the nature and extent of the need and of the resources of the person concerned.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.