'Elderly should not stint on fuel' - Minster says leave heating on '24 hours'... despite uncertainty over extra payments
THE Minister for the Elderly, Jim Daly, has been criticised for recommending older people leave their heating on '24 hours' during the coming cold weather as there are no guarantees they will be repaid any extra spend on fuel.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Daly said: "Fuel and heat are always concerns for the elderly, particularly when it comes to cost".
He added: "The uniquely cold weather conditions over the coming days mean the elderly should not stint on fuel use’.
"Shivering behind a single electric bar will be penny wise and pound foolish’" he said.
Mr Daly went on to advise that pensioners should keep the heat going for twenty-four hours, to use more coal and briquettes before adding that any extra spend could be covered by a number of schemes, highlighting the Urgent Needs Supplementary Payment and the Exceptional Needs Payment.
However, Fianna Fail's Willie O'Dea today said that the payments under the 'Exceptional Needs Scheme' were entirely at the decision of the local community welfare officer and that people wouldn't spend extra unless they were sure of reimbursement.
Mr O'Dea suggested a specific provision created so that people will know the extra costs are covered.
This echoed a call by Justin Moran, Head of Advocacy and Communications with Age Action, who said: “Many older people have trouble heating their homes at the best of times. They can be very nervous about keeping the heat on because they are afraid of rising energy bills.
“The best way to ensure older people aren’t afraid to keep the heat on during this cold weather is to announce a one-off, double-payment, of the Fuel Allowance.
“This would give them the assurance they need that keeping warm isn’t going to mean bills they cannot pay.”
In response to Mr O'Dea, Minister Daly told Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1: "There is nothing new in anything I said. I'm merely pointing to a scheme that exists but I think it is very important that elderly people are aware of the scheme. It's the exceptional needs payment scheme.
"Where people have exceptional needs, it's out of the ordinary, they can come to their community welfare officer and require assistance with those bills there is a scheme there.
"I want to ensure that no older person is going to take a chance this week and won;t get an extra bag of coal because I can't afford it.
"I don't want that scenario to happenen. I plead with older people to get that extra bag of coal or bale of briquettes. There is help there for them afterwards."
When asked if he could guarantee that all applicants to the scheme will get their money the Minister said: "In so far as you can guarantee anyone applying for any scheme that is underpinned by statute, funded by the government, if they are eligible they will be eligible.
"Apply and if you are entitled to it, you will get it."
Mr O'Dea called the Minister's response a "total cop out".
In a response to Independent.ie, Minister Daly said: "I strongly advise the elderly to take extra precautions with the severe weather that is predicted to strike the country over the coming days, keeping their heat on for 24 hours over the next few days will ensure that nobody gets seriously ill or worse. Groups advocating for the elderly have echoed my sentiments and are encouraging all to take these extra precautions. The Department of Social Welfare have payment schemes in place such as Urgent Needs Supplementary Payment’ and the Exceptional Needs Payment for exceptional circumstances for people who cannot afford the cost of purchase. I would reiterate that those concerned can call the senior line telephone service on 1800 804591 or Citizens Information on 0761 074000 which will inform them of their rights."
Earlier, Age Action issued the following advice for older people ahead of the predicted Arctic weather.
In order to stay well and warm this winter older people should also take the following steps:
· Dress correctly – wear layers, rather than one thick layer of clothing. Maybe wear a woollen or fleece hat in bed.
· Remain active – don’t stay sitting for long periods. Spread your chores throughout the day to ensure to keep moving around your home.
· Eat well – have at least one hot meal a day. Sip hot drinks regularly. Keep a flask of hot drink by the bed, in case you wake up cold.
· Seal gaps around windows and doors.
· Remain in contact with your family and friends, including other older people.