Social Welfare Benefits

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 203 No. 12

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Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden Zoom on Nicky McFadden I wish Senator Ellis luck. If I were him, I would not hold my breath if the Athlone experience is any guide.

Senator John Ellis: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis We are going more up-market.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden Zoom on Nicky McFadden The Senator is in Government, I suppose.

I thank the Minister for attending. This issue relates to the provision of a travel pass for a 19 year old insulin dependent diabetic. This young man is attending a course in Dún Laoghaire College of Further Education. While attending the course he became very unwell, with his [827]diabetes becoming unstable and out of control. He had to go to hospital. Subsequently, he has been very well cared for by the team in the hospital in Dún Laoghaire, which is led by a number of consultants. He is required to attend the consultant on a monthly basis.

He has now finished his course and is living at home in Athlone. He does not have a job and, as a result, is experiencing severe financial difficulties. His parents are also compromised financially by the recession and are in receipt of family income supplement. Throughout this young man’s childhood and early adolescence, his mother was in possession of a travel pass which she never used. She did not need to use it as she had a car. Logically, he asked me to approach the Department about having her travel pass transferred to him, a young adult who urgently needs to be able to access his medical care in Dún Laoghaire.

I have got nowhere with the Department. Could this young man have the travel pass instead of his mother? It is a very logical request. The young man has overcome huge adversity in his life and manages his illness. He has a positive outlook and will achieve everything a normal young lad can achieve. It is incumbent on us to ensure he remains healthy, able to afford to visit his consultant in Dún Laoghaire and that his parents do not have the anxiety and worry every month of wondering how they will afford to get him there. He has a long-term illness book but has been refused a disability allowance. He does not want the allowance because he does not consider himself to be disabled, but he needs support to attend the consultant in Dún Laoghaire.

This anomaly must be addressed. The family never used the travel pass when the young man was younger but now he needs it. Can the Minister get it for him?

Deputy Michael Finneran: Information on Michael Finneran Zoom on Michael Finneran I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection.

The main objective of the free travel scheme administered by the Department is to encourage older people and people with disabilities to remain independent and active in the community. The scheme permits a recipient to travel for free on most CIE public transport services, Luas and a range of services offered by a large number of private operators in various parts of the country. A free travel customer can also travel for free on cross-Border journeys between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Customers aged 66 years and over can avail of free travel on transport services operating internally within Northern Ireland. There are approximately 686,000 customers availing of the scheme at an annual cost of some €77 million.

In addition to the free travel scheme, the Department makes an annual contribution of €1.5 million to the rural transport programme, in addition to the contribution provided by the Department of Transport, in recognition of the carriage of free travel customers. It is acknowledged that free travel customers benefit from the initiative, particularly those who had no access to public transport prior to the setting up of the programme.

The free travel scheme is available to a wide range of customers, including all persons aged 66 years or over and customers under the age of 66 who are in receipt of disability related payments such as disability allowance, invalidity pension, blind pension and incapacity supplement or workmen’s compensation with a disablement pension. People resident in the State who are in receipt of a social security invalidity payment from a country covered by EU regulations or from a country with which Ireland has a bilateral social security agreement and who have been in receipt of that payment for at least 12 months are also eligible for free travel. Free travel is also provided for those providing care and satisfying the payment condition in recognition of the additional costs which may occur in assisting the care recipient. Widows and widowers aged 60 to 65 years whose late spouse was availing of the free travel scheme may also qualify.

[828]Customers who qualify for the free travel scheme who are married or living as husband and wife may have an entitlement to a free travel pass that allows their spouse or partner to accompany them for free when travelling. In addition, certain people can obtain a free travel companion pass if they are medically assessed as unfit to travel alone. This type of pass allows any one person, aged 16 years or over, to accompany the customer for free when travelling. The purpose of the scheme is to encourage recipients to remain mobile and to ensure a person’s entitlement to free travel is not diminished because a companion cannot afford to accompany them.

In regard to the specific case raised by the Senator, the person’s adult son is not in receipt of a payment that would qualify him for entitlement to avail of the free travel scheme. As with all social welfare schemes, or any scheme administered by the State, there is no provision to transfer entitlement from a person who meets the qualifying criteria to a person who does not meet them. There is no provision, therefore, to transfer a free travel pass from one customer to another. Moreover, in this case I am advised that the mother referred to by the Senator does not qualify for free travel. The free travel scheme is available to persons in receipt of carer’s allowance or to a nominated carer for a person in receipt of constant attendance allowance or prescribed relative’s allowance from the Department. The person referred to by the Senator was previously in receipt of carer’s allowance and had an entitlement to avail of the free travel scheme until payment of the allowance ceased in 2007. Eligibility to avail of the free travel scheme is contingent on a person’s eligibility to receive payment of carer’s allowance. When payment of carer’s allowance ceased, the customer would have been advised that she was no longer entitled to avail of the free travel scheme and that she should return her travel pass. I understand the person submitted a new application for carer’s allowance earlier this week which will be given full consideration.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden Zoom on Nicky McFadden I am disappointed with the reply. As the Minister of State said, the idea is to keep people mobile and independent. This is, therefore, a reasonable request. I understand the Minister cannot make law for one person, but I have also been contacted by the Diabetic Association of Ireland and there are a number of young people in this position. They no longer have anybody caring for them because they are old enough to care for themselves and are managing their insulin very well, but they need support to travel to and from their hospital appointments. I am not happy with the response and do not know what I can do or say to encourage the Minister to look at this case more favourably.

Deputy Michael Finneran: Information on Michael Finneran Zoom on Michael Finneran I appreciate the point made by the Senator. Two issues arise, the first of which is that there is no provision or regulation in law for the transfer of a travel pass. The second, which is fundamental, is that the woman concerned does not have a travel pass, but that might change if her application for carer’s allowance is successful. Perhaps the matter might be revisited at that time.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden Zoom on Nicky McFadden He will still not have a travel pass. She will but he will not.

The Seanad adjourned at 10.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1 July 2010.

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