Tuesday, 7 October 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Durkan: I am grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue on the Adjournment. I thank the Minister for Social and Family Affairs for having the courtesy to come  before the House to reply. It is truly said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to get a Minister into the House to reply to a debate.
I wish to raise a matter which was also the subject of a parliamentary question of 30 September 2003. It related to a lady who, having worked in the same job for 20 years, took early retirement to care for her ailing mother. Alas, her mother eventually passed away and left the woman with mortgage liabilities and without a job, as is quite common. The woman in question did what she felt she had to at the time. She made an application for mortgage interest supplement as is normal in such cases. There are many people who have been in receipt of this supplement for a long time as a result of the serious housing problem we spoke about earlier. The woman supplied all the information she was asked to provide and having done so was asked to provide more. She also supplied this information. For some unknown reason the relevant health board decided this information was insufficient and determined to make an issue of it. Ultimately, the unfortunate applicant lost patience and hope and gave up, which apparently suited the scene in so far as the investigation was concerned.
I know what the Minister's reply will be – I could write that script. I had some experience of that. If the reply is in accord with the reply to the parliamentary question, it is incorrect. The incorrect part is the statement that the person did not supply the details requested and subsequently withdrew her application for mortgage interest supplement. I reject that. She supplied the details but she became very annoyed when she was repeatedly pursued for more information. She informs me that she supplied all the information requested and I ask the Minister to check with the relevant health authority to find out precisely what was required and what was supplied. The reply goes on to state that if she wishes to reapply for mortgage interest supplement she will be required to furnish the details previously requested. To the best of my knowledge all the information was requested.
This is the second or third time I have had to raise an issue of this nature with the Minister, and the Minister acknowledges that. In previous cases the matter was resolved to the satisfaction of my constituents. I am not trying to pre-empt the Minister's reply but I will become extremely annoyed if I find out that the information requested was supplied but that the Minister was not informed to that effect when she replied to  the question on 30 September last. I ask the Minister to investigate that issue. I regard it as a serious matter and I hope the Minister will treat it accordingly.
This matter concerns an application for a mortgage interest supplement under the terms of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. The SWA scheme is administered on behalf of my Department by the regional health boards and neither I nor my Department has any function in deciding entitlement in individual cases. The main objective of the SWA scheme is to make up the difference between a person's means and basic needs. Where a person has access to some resources in kind or in cash, through the social welfare system or otherwise, the relevant legislation requires that this be taken into account in determining the amount of assistance payable.
The mortgage interest supplement is designed to assist eligible people who are unable to meet their mortgage interest repayments in respect of a dwelling which is their sole place of residence. The scheme operates on the basis that a person shall be entitled to a supplement towards the interest portion of the mortgage repayments only. The capital element of the repayment is not taken into account in calculating the amount of supplement payable as it is not considered appropriate that the Exchequer should repay part of the initial loan and thereby provide assistance towards the accumulation of a capital asset on the part of the individual concerned.
Mortgage interest supplements, which are subject to a means test, are normally calculated to ensure that a person, after the payment of mortgage interest, has an income equal to the rate of SWA appropriate to his or her family circumstances less a minimum contribution of €12. Many recipients pay more than €12 because applicants are required to contribute, towards their mortgage interest, any additional assessable means they have over and above the appropriate basic SWA rate.
In my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 1374, which I answered for the Deputy on 30 September 2003, I advised him that the South Western Area Health Board had been contacted on behalf of the individual in question and had advised me that she made an application for a mortgage interest supplement at her local health centre. She was asked to supply details of her financial circumstances to facilitate the means test. The individual in question was unwilling to supply particular information requested by the board  and subsequently withdrew her application for mortgage interest supplement.
I understand the details sought by the health board may relate to a redundancy payment the individual received. The means test for supplementary welfare allowance is carried out in accordance with Part III of the Third Schedule of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993. In addition to assessing income which an individual may have, the legislation requires an assessment of property, other than the applicant's home, and savings or investments in determining the level of assistance to be provided in individual cases. The position, therefore, is that to allow a health board to process an application for assistance under the terms of the SWA scheme it must be in possession of all the relevant information to be in a position to carry out the means test. In the case the Deputy raises this evening, the board advised that it was not in possession of all the relevant  information as suggested in the Deputy's original inquiry. The details sought by the board were essential to facilitate an accurate assessment of the individual's means. I am satisfied that the health board dealt in an appropriate manner with the individual's application, which has since been withdrawn.
As stated in my reply of 30 September, if the individual wishes to reapply for a mortgage interest supplement she will be required to furnish the details previously requested so that her application can be processed.
In deference to the Deputy, I will privately advise him of the difficulty and the impasse between the board and the individual, and perhaps we can deal with this matter in a confidential way outside the House.
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