Tuesday, 18 February 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
243. Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will alter the maximum rent levels paid by health boards in order that they reflect the amount of rent actually paid for private rented accommodation. [4422/97]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): Section 179 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993 as substituted by paragraph 3 of the 6th Schedule to the Act, provides for the payment of a rent supplement in the case of a person whose means are insufficient to meet their needs. The legislation also enables the Minister to make regulations prescribing the circumstances and conditions under which such a supplement may be paid, the class or classes of persons to whom a supplement may be paid and the amount of supplement that may be paid, and this has been done in S.I. 382 (Social Welfare (Consolidated Supplementary Welfare Allowances) Regulations) of 1995.
Article 9 (2) (g) (iii) of the regulations requires the health board to be satisfied, in deciding entitlement to a rent supplement, that the rent payable by the applicant “...is just and proper having regard to the nature, character and location of the residence”.
In order to comply with this legislative provision, each health board is required to set reasonable maximum rent levels in respect of the various classes of persons, as a basis for calculating the amount of rent supplement payable.
In addition, Article 12 (1) of the regulations specifies that the amount of weekly rent supplement paid will be calculated so as to ensure that the person, after payment of rent, has an income equal to the rate of SWA appropriate to the family circumstances, less £6. This £6 represents the minimum contribution which clients are required to pay from their own resources. However, the legislation requires that the health board must be satisfied that the amount of rent supplement payable must not exceed such amount as the health board considers reasonable to meet the applicant's residential needs.
In keeping with the legislative requirements of both these articles, all health boards set maximum rent limits in respect of the various classes of persons — e.g. single persons, couples, lone parents with one child, etc. Such limits are set by the health board using local knowledge of reasonable rents for private rented accommodation within and across the health board area.
Accommodation costs are based on information on average rents charged in the area received from local auctioneers and letting agents. The maximum rent levels on which rent supplements are based are reviewed on a regular basis to take account of fluctuations in accommodation costs.
An applicant who chooses to live in accommodation costing above the set limit will generally be expected to pay the additional costs themselves. However, in very exceptional circumstances, for example where there are extenuating medical or social circumstances, the board will consider basing the supplement on the higher rent level having regard to the applicant's means and all the other requirements of the legislation.
244. Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for Social Welfare if new conditions relating to the free fuel allowance have been put in place in the past year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4219/97]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are on long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide for their own heating needs. In addition applicants must live alone or only with qualified dependants, a carer, a person in receipt of a short-term unemployment assistance payment or a person who qualifies for a fuel allowance in their own right.
No new conditions relating to the fuel scheme have been put in place in the past year other than an increase in the income limits from £10-£15 per week in the case of non-means tested payments which applied from 14 October 1996. A review of the scheme was recently carried out on behalf of the Department by independent consultants to ensure that the scheme is operating effectively and equitably. A draft of the consultant's report has been received and the final report is expected in the near future.
245. Mr. E. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will recommend the payment of a supplementary welfare allowance to a person (details supplied) in County Cork whose unemployment benefit has been withdrawn and who has no income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4233/97]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): Section 171 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993 provides that every person in the State whose means are insufficient to meet his needs, or the needs of his dependants, is entitled to payment under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.
The SWA scheme is administered by the eight regional health boards on behalf of my Department and my Department has no function in deciding entitlement in individual cases. Those eligible for assistance under the SWA scheme would normally be in receipt of a social welfare or health board payment and would have to satisfy a number of criteria, including a means test.
The person concerned does not have sufficient PRSI contributions to be eligible for unemployment benefit. The person initially applied for unemployment assistance in December 1994 but failed to make himself available for an interview.
On 20 January 1997 the person applied again for unemployment assistance and the file was sent to a Social Welfare officer for investigation. When the investigation has been completed the person will be notified of the outcome without delay.
In January 1997 the person concerned approached the local health centre for assistance under the supplementary welfare allowance under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme and the community welfare officer requested details of the income received from the person's previous employers. To date, this information has not been submitted.
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