Thursday, 8 May 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
208. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will extend the entitlement to the free schemes to all widows and widowers aged 60 to 65, rather than only those whose late spouse was receiving the allowances in the household benefits package prior to their death; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12531/03]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): The household benefits package, which comprises electricity-gas allowance, telephone allowance and free television licence schemes, is generally available to people living in the State, aged 66 years or over, who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who fulfil a means test. The package is also available to carers and people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. People aged over 70 years of age can qualify regardless of their income or household composition.
Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the  household benefit package retain that entitlement to ensure that households do not suffer a loss of entitlements following the death of a spouse.
The free schemes share a common set of objectives in the area of social inclusion. These are defined as: to provide assistance to those living alone by targeting them with specific benefits providing both income and social inclusion gains; to support older people and people with disabilities in their wish to remain in the community as opposed to institutional care; and to support Government policy which seeks to acknowledge the value of older people in society.
A range of proposals have been made to extend the free schemes to other groups, including widows and widowers and other social welfare recipients. These are being examined and will be kept under review in the context of future budgets and available resources.
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