Tuesday, 20 September 2022
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Social Welfare Payments
361. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will investigate the provision of making free travel passes available to persons with epilepsy who are temporarily barred from driving for one year or more due to having a breakthrough seizure; if she will consider uncoupling the free travel pass from other qualifying payments to ensure that there is a direct application process for a free travel pass (details supplied); if she will consider this request as part of her Department’s Budget 2023 proposals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45560/22]
365. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will consider a proposal from an organisation (details supplied) for improved access to the free-travel scheme for people with epilepsy in Ireland. [45598/22]
366. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if epilepsy will be considered as a qualifying condition in order to qualify for the free travel scheme; the steps that have been taken to improve access to the free-travel scheme for people with epilepsy in Ireland; the timeline for when the exploratory work by her Department on proposals submitted by a group (details supplied) will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45599/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 361, 365 and 366 together.
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 1,043,000 customers with direct eligibility. The estimated expenditure on free travel in 2022 is €95 million.
I am aware of an ongoing campaign by Epilepsy Ireland and recognise the issues and difficulties that can arise due to a person being diagnosed with epilepsy and who are unable to drive as a result of their condition. I have met with representatives of Epilepsy Ireland to discuss its proposal in detail.
Following the meeting, I asked my Department officials to examine the issues raised by Epilepsy Ireland. This work is still ongoing.
As the proposals by Epilepsy Ireland would fundamentally alter the scheme, including overall scheme policy, it is not yet possible to provide a date for completion of this work.
Therefore, while consideration is always given to any requests to improve or extend eligibility to the free travel scheme, the proposals by Epilepsy Ireland will have to be considered in the context of priorities for the free travel scheme, the budgetary implications and overall scheme policy.
Finally, the Department of Social Protection provides Additional Needs Payments as part of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme for people who have an urgent need, which they cannot meet from their own resources. These payments are available through our Community Welfare Officers and include help towards recurring travel costs that cannot be met from the person's own resources and are deemed to be necessary. Every decision is based on consideration of the circumstances of the 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.