Dáil Éireann - Volume 644 - 12 December, 2007

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Code.

Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will raise the fuel allowance in view of the rising cost of all fuels and taking into consideration the need for the elderly to keep their homes at a safe temperature; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33247/07]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: The national fuel allowance scheme assists householders on long-term social welfare or health service executive (HSE) payments with meeting the cost of their heating needs during the winter season. Fuel allowances which are paid from end-September to end-April represent a contribution towards a person’s normal heating expenses. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. In Budget 2008 I have extended the duration of the payment by 1 week to 30 weeks in total. This increase in the duration [246] of the fuel season will cost an extra €5.6m per annum bringing the estimated expenditure this year to €167.1m for some 286,200 households that will benefit under the scheme.

Budget resources are concentrated on providing significant real increases over and above inflation each year in all primary social welfare pension, benefit and assistance rates. This is a more costly approach than increasing fuel allowances as the increase is paid for the full year and not just for the 30 weeks of the winter heating season. Income maintenance measures for social welfare recipients are significant with rates of payments increased in the context of each budget strategy. Social welfare rates have increased at a significantly greater rate than price inflation in recent years, which has assisted social welfare households to achieve some increase in their quality of life and in their ability to meet the cost of items such as fuel.

In Budget 2008 I have also increased the social welfare rates to keep them ahead of inflation. This reflects the Government’s objective to ensure that the total weekly income of benefit and assistance recipient’s, including the fuel allowance, is sufficient to meet all of their income needs, including heating costs. In that regard, total social welfare payments have increased by between 61% and 77% over the past six years. Total price inflation including fuel price inflation, was less than 23% in the same period.

Any other changes in relation to fuel allowances would have significant cost implications and would have to be considered in the light of the resources available for improvements in social welfare generally.