At least 125 vulnerable people needed emergency payments to heat their homes during the Beast from the East storm — payments which were only guaranteed after the Government was forced to backtrack and provide the vital supports for those at risk.
The Department of Social Protection confirmed the exceptional needs and urgent needs allowance figures last night, but failed to reveal how many people saw their requests for the same help turned down.
According to the figure obtained by the Irish Examiner, the 125 payments granted under the two emergency allowances cost a total of €25,000 last week.
The breakdown — which does not include the number of people who applied for the funds but were rejected — is in addition to the 331,000 people who received a double fuel allowance last week to cope with the snow storms, which cost €8.3m.
However, while the payments will be seen by the Government as proof funds were made available to those in need during the storms, the lack of any information on how many applications were rejected is likely to lead to fresh criticism from the opposition
Asked by the Irish Examiner for a breakdown of the extra allowance payments as a result of the Beast from the East and Storm Emma, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said: “All 331,000 recipients of fuel allowance will receive an additional week’s payment next week at a cost of €8.3m.
“There will be no additional staff costs incurred for making this payment.
“In the week ending March 2, there were 125 payments made at a cost of approximately €25,000 under the exceptional needs payment and urgent needs payment schemes for assistance towards heating-related costs, which includes fuel and essential repairs to equipment.
“Statistics are maintained relating to payments under the exceptional needs payment and urgent needs payment schemes, however, they are not maintained on the number of applications or the outcome of those applications.”
The extra fuel allowance payments were highlighted by the Government in response to an angry public and political backlash to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s initial claims last week that he would not write a “blank cheque” for those in need.
On Tuesday of last week, just hours before the Beast from the East first hit parts of the country, Minister for Older People Jim Daly suggested elderly people should keep their heating on constantly during the freeze and not to worry about the resulting bills.
However, later that day Mr Varadkar appeared to reject the plan, saying it is not the Government’s job to “pick up the bill” and write a “blank cheque” for people unable to heat their own homes.
After an angry backlash from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and other parties, as well as advocacy group Age Action Ireland, the following morning Mr Varadkar did a U-turn on the decision and said both a double fuel allowance payment and the extra allowances would be made available.
The ability for older people, in particular, to afford to heat their homes has been seen as key to ensuring the safety of a large section of society who were vulnerable during the cold weather and freezing temperatures.
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