Winter fuel allowance payments for the lower paid are to be extended amid concerns about the costs of heating and energy bills in the freezing conditions.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said the fuel allowance season would be extended by one week.
The decision came as campaigners for the elderly outlined cuts and grant changes for energy supports which were causing severe hardship for households.
“My department has been closely monitoring the weather conditions and this extension should ensure that recipients are covered throughout this unseasonable weather spell,” said Ms Burton.
A total of 410,000 people claim €20 in fuel allowance per week, including those in receipt of social welfare and HSE payments. The allowance costs the State €211m per year.
The fuel allowance is paid for 26 weeks from October to April. The last payments for this season were due to be paid in the first week of April. Recipients will now receive a further payment from the week beginning April 8. The allowance was cut from 32 to 26 weeks in the budget. It will be extended automatically, meaning claimants do not have to apply.
Fianna Fáil said the period needed to be extended by at least three weeks to protect the vulnerable.
Age Action welcomed the extension yesterday, but also highlighted concerns over increasing energy bills.
The group called on the Government to reverse cuts made to supports for older people under the household benefits package. Under this year’s Government budget, the electricity and gas allowances of the package for the lower paid were cut, giving savings of €20m.
Age Action’s head of advocacy, Eamon Timmins, said the full extent of the household grant cuts were only emerging now as the latest gas and electricity bills arrived in the post.
The new rates under the package did not include standing charges for energy services as part of the €70 supplement paid every two months, they said, adding standing charges accounted for almost half of that supplement on some bills.
“We are being contacted by older people who are currently facing energy bills of €400 to €500 for January and February,” said Mr Timmins. “The combination of cuts introduced by the Government are adding to the hardship and worry faced by these people.”
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