Thursday, 22 September 2022
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Social Welfare Eligibility
277. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will consider extending free-travel eligibility to persons with a disability who do not qualify for a disability payment due to their financial means but who do meet the criteria for a disability payment on the basis of their medical condition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46424/22]
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 approximately 1,043,000 customers with direct eligibility. The estimated expenditure on free travel in 2022 is €95 million.
It is 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. Importantly, as many illnesses or physical conditions have an impact across a spectrum from mild to severe, entitlement to these social welfare schemes is not provided on the basis of a diagnosis but on the basis of the impact of that diagnosis on the individual concerned. In this way, resources can be targeted to people in 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.
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.
Any such change would also require potentially very significant additional funding for the free travel scheme and would have to be considered in the context of overall budgetary resources.
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.