Government broke promise on fuel allowance, Gilmore claims


THE GOVERNMENT failed to introduce a promised vouched fuel allowance scheme to offset the carbon levy which comes into effect on May 1st, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore claimed in the Dáil yesterday.

He said pensioners and low-income households faced a “double whammy this weekend” with the winter fuel allowance scheme ending on April 30th and a new carbon levy coming into effect on May 1st.

The carbon levy, announced in the budget, would increase the cost of heating oil by 8.7 per cent, the Labour leader said, and the price of oil had risen by 37 per cent in the last year.

The Minister for Finance promised at the time there would be a system of fuel allowances for low-income families affected by the introduction of the carbon levy, but the Government has not done anything to bring in this allowance, Mr Gilmore said.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said “if there are any hardship cases the exceptional needs payment scheme continues to be available”.

Raising the issue during leaders’ questions, Mr Gilmore said 300,000 households would be affected by the new charge, from Saturday. The carbon levy is a charge on fossil fuels.

He asked the Taoiseach: “Will you either have the allowance brought in as was promised in the budget or will you postpone the introduction of the carbon levy on heating oil until such time as the allowance is brought in to protect low-income families from the effect of the carbon levy?”

Mr Cowen said the “various supplementary schemes will be available from the autumn-to-March period, when people are most in need”. He added: “In the meantime, if there are any hardship cases, the exceptional needs payment scheme continues to be available.”

But Mr Gilmore said the standard fuel allowance scheme available to low-income families throughout the winter would expire on Friday.

“It’s going to present an additional hardship for people whose social welfare payments were already cut by the Government in the budget.

“These are people who had an additional cut in their payments as a result of the abolition of the Christmas bonus. Now they’re being faced with additional fuel costs for the introduction of the carbon levy,” Mr Gilmore said.

When Opposition TDs intervened and said the promised scheme was not being implemented, Mr Cowen told them, “It’s a question of making sure that the exceptional payments system will meet any hardship in that regard.”