Written Answers - Social Welfare Benefits.

Tuesday, 15 June 2004

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 587 No. 2

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  593.  Mr. Wall  Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   the position regarding persons (details supplied) in County Kildare seeking rent subsidy allowance as determined under the new guidelines set down by her Department; if there is a position in regard to emergency cases determined by the legislation as is applicable to these [652]persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17162/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  The objective of rent supplement is to provide assistance to eligible people residing in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation needs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. A rent supplement is a short-term income maintenance support and is not intended to address a person’s long-term accommodation needs.

The regulations governing the payment of rent supplement stipulate that, in general, rent supplement is not paid to people who vacate local authority accommodation. These regulations were in place prior to the introduction of the new measures earlier this year.

The new measures do not restrict the discretion available to health boards to deal with exceptional cases. In this regard a health board may provide assistance where, in the opinion of the board, the circumstances of the particular case so warrant. The South Western Area Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised that the person concerned made an enquiry about rent supplement at his local health centre. He was advised that he would not qualify for rent supplement if he vacated local authority accommodation.

In the opinion of the board the circumstances of the case do not warrant payment of rent supplement as an exceptional measure. The person concerned has been advised as to the most appropriate way to deal with his situation and that, if he is unhappy with his present accommodation, it is open to him to request a transfer to alternative local authority accommodation.

  594.  Mr. Wall  Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   her views on the action a person (details supplied) in County Kildare should take when her Department refuses to pay their rent subsidy and the person is not in a position to finance the rent or to seek alternative accommodation with family or friends; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17207/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  In my reply to the Deputy on 18th May 2004, I advised that the South Western Area Health Board was awaiting the outcome of an assessment, to be undertaken by the local housing authority, of the housing needs of the person concerned.

The board has advised that the local housing authority has completed its assessment and informed the board that the person concerned is not considered to be in need of housing as she has the option of living in the family home.

In the circumstances she does not satisfy the conditions for the receipt of rent supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.

  595.  Mr. McHugh  Information on Paddy McHugh  Zoom on Paddy McHugh   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   when a decision will be made on an application for the carer’s allowance sub[653]mitted to her Department by a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17279/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  The application for carer’s allowance from the person concerned is currently with an investigative officer of my Department for a means assessment and to establish if the conditions necessary for receipt of carer’s allowance are satisfied. In addition, the medical evidence received with the application form has been sent to my Department’s chief medical advisor for consideration.

On receipt of the investigative officer’s report and the chief medical advisor’s report, the matter will be further examined and she will be notified directly of the outcome.

Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  596.  Mr. R. Bruton  Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a person who becomes acutely ill necessitating a prolonged period of hospital treatment, is eligible for no financial support whatsoever, because the person is deemed to be in full-time care; if an investigation will be carried out of the non medical expenses for a family associated with a period when a family member is in long term acute care; and if she will consider introducing a part-rate disability allowance payment to such persons related to the cost which a family bears. [17412/04

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  A person who becomes ill and requires a prolonged period of hospital treatment may qualify for disability benefit from my Department if they have paid sufficient PRSI contributions. Where a person has not worked or has insufficient PRSI contributions, they may qualify for the disability allowance, which is subject to a means test.

In order to qualify for disability allowance a person must have a disability which substantially restricts their capacity to undertake work which would otherwise be suitable for a person of similar age, experience and qualifications. Under the current arrangements, neither disability benefit nor disability allowance is affected by the residential status of the recipient. Payment of both of these payments can therefore, be made where the applicant is in hospital for medical treatment or is in any other form of residential care, either on a short-term or long-term basis.

The feasibility of introducing a payment to meet the additional costs arising from disability is currently being examined by a working group which has been established under the programme for prosperity and fairness. This working group, which is being chaired by the Department of Health and Children, comprises representatives of relevant Government Departments and agen[654]cies, including my own Department. The outcome of this group will inform future policy in this area.

  597.  Mr. O’Shea  Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   her proposals to increase the child benefit allowance to help parents pay for child care costs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17426/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Child benefit delivers a standard rate of payment in respect of all children in a family regardless of income levels or employment status. It supports all children but delivers proportionately more assistance to those on low incomes and with larger families. It does not distort parental choice in respect of labour force participation, and contributes towards alleviating child poverty.

Child benefit is not intended primarily to meet child care costs. However, the very substantial increases in benefit in recent years can make a significant contribution to meeting those costs.

Budget 2004 provided for a €6 per month increase, or 4.8%, in the rate of child benefit payable in respect of each of the first two children and €8 per month, or 5.1% increase in the rate payable in respect of the third and subsequent children.

Over the period since 1997, the monthly rates of child benefit have increased by €93.51 at the lower rate and €115.78 at the higher rate, increases of 246% and 234% respectively, compared with inflation of 26.9%. This level of increase is unprecedented and delivers on the Government’s objective of providing support for children generally while offering real choice to all parents.

The question of further increases in child benefit will be a matter for consideration in a budgetary context, taking into account stated Government commitments in this area.

  598.  Mr. Ring  Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive an appeal date for a hearing in respect of unemployment benefit. [17483/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  The person concerned applied for unemployment benefit on 13 April 2004. His claim was disallowed by the deciding officer on the grounds that he was not genuinely seeking employment.

The person appealed against this decision to the social welfare appeals office (appeal received on 14th May 2004) and an appeals officer is of the opinion that an oral hearing is required. He will be advised of the date and venue for the hearing when the necessary arrangements have been made.

Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

[655]

  599.  Mr. Wall   Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   the reason a person (details supplied) in County Kildare is not in receipt of the rent subsidy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17507/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  The South Western Area Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised that the person concerned was referred to the local housing authority for an assessment of her housing needs. The local housing authority completed its assessment and informed the board that the person concerned is not considered to be in need of housing.

In the circumstances she does not satisfy the conditions for the receipt of rent supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.

The board has further advised that the person concerned has appealed against the decision to refuse her rent supplement. Her appeal is currently with the appeals officer in the Eastern Regional Health Authority.

  600.  Mr. J. Bruton  Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   the proposed date for introduction of the all-Ireland free travel scheme promised in the Government joint programme. [17515/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Under existing arrangements free travel pass holders in Northern Ireland and the Republic can undertake free travel within their own jurisdictions. They can also avail of free cross-Border journeys on bus and rail services.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce a system of all-Ireland free travel for pensioners and other eligible social welfare customer categories. This would enable passholders to make onward journeys free of charge in each jurisdiction.

I intend to have this scheme in operation before the end of the current Government’s term of office. Officials from my Department have held initial discussions on the all-Ireland free travel scheme with their counterparts in the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland, in the context of regular liaison between the two organisations in relation to the existing cross-Border free travel scheme.

There are a number of policy and operational issues to be resolved for the proposed new scheme, including options for joint funding and the possible use of smartcards. My Department will continue to progress these issues with the northern authorities and participating transport operators, with the intention of finalising contracts and funding provisions for the new scheme as soon as possible.


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