Thursday, 8 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
135. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs his views on whether the £5 per week fuel allowance and the £6 per week living allowance for senior citizens are adequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27320/01]
136. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will make efforts to recommend a substantial increase in the living alone allowance and the fuel allowance paid to senior citizens in advance of the December 2001 budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27321/01]
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. A payment of £5 – 6.35 – per week is normally paid to eligible households. However, an additional £3 – 3.81 – per week is paid in smokeless zones, bringing the total amount in those areas to £8 – 10.16 – per week. In the case of a relatively small number of people living in smokeless zones, the £3 – 3.81 – per week smokeless fuel supplement only is payable.
As announced in last year's budget, the fuel season has been increased from 26 weeks to 29 weeks. The fuel season was extended by two weeks in April and now also commences one week earlier in October. The current fuel season commenced on 1 October 2001 and will finish on 19 April 2002.
The national and smokeless fuel schemes were reviewed in 1998 as part of this Department's series of programme evaluations. The review group took the view that improvements in the national fuel scheme cannot be looked at in isolation from the improvements in the primary weekly payment rates. The group concluded that the present rates of payment should remain unchanged if improvements in primary payment rates fully compensated recipients for all price inflation, including fuel price inflation.
In that regard, the increase in primary payment rates implemented in the three budgets following the review of the scheme have given a substantial real increase after fully compensating for inflation, including fuel price inflation. The increases in primary payments of £8 – 10.16 – to £10 – 12.70 – per week that I brought into  effect in April of this year are the largest ever implemented.
Giving people a real increase in their primary payment for 52 weeks of the year is a more expensive option than increasing the fuel allowance payment rate for part of the year. However, I believe it to be the correct approach to take as it gives people greater flexibility in meeting their needs.
With regard to the living alone allowance, as the Deputy is aware, this allowance is an additional payment to people aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of certain social welfare type payments and who reside alone. The allowance has remained at its current level since 1996.
In the review of the action programme for the millennium the Government reaffirmed its commitment to caring for older people by advancing the goal of bringing the old age contributory pension to £100 – 126.97 – per week and by extending the £100 – 126.97 – commitment to all social welfare old age pensioners by 2002.
In Budget 2001 further significant progress was made towards achieving this goal following significant increases in social welfare pension rates. With effect from the first week in April 2001, the personal rate of old age contributory pension was increased to £106 – 134.59 – per week. The equivalent rate for old age non-contributory pension was increased to £95.50 – 121.26 – per week.
As with the fuel scheme, these measures reflect the emphasis placed on improving the personal pension rates of older people which the Government consider is the most effective and equitable way to ensure that their position is improved.
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The full year cost of increasing the old age non-contributory pension rate by £5, 6.35, per week is estimated at £23.01 million, 29.21million.
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