Christmas bonus back for over a million people on long-term welfare

The Government announced the return of a Christmas top-up payment worth 25pc of the weekly welfare rate for those on long-term social welfare payments.

Welfare recipients used to get a Christmas bonus of a full week’s extra payment in December, but this double payment was axed by Fianna Fail in 2009 after the economic collapse.

Tanaiste Joan Burton said prior to that there had been a Christmas bonus since 1980, and she was very keenly aware from her own family of its importance to pensioners at an expensive time of the year.

It will be paid to more than 1.16 million people who receive the state pension, lone family payment, carer’s allowance, disability allowance, long-term jobseeker’s allowance, farm assist and other long-term social welfare payments.

The total cost will be €63.5m and Ms Burton said this was coming out of the 2014 allocation for social welfare, making it “another dividend” of the improving jobs situation and falling numbers on the live register.

However, those on Jobseeker’s Benefit, or who have been out of work for less than a year, will not receive it.

Ms Burton said the reason for this was that most of those who were short-term on the Live Register moved back into work fairly quickly, and the bonus had traditionally gone to those on long-term payments.

“Money is tight you know, we are beginning the recovery and we have to be quite careful in how we manage the funds that are available,” she said.

The bonus payment will be worth 25pc of a welfare recipient’s weekly payment, so a single pensioner on €230 a week will receive an extra €57, while a pensioner couple will receive an extra €109.15.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said in his Budget speech that the partial Christmas bonus was coming out of the Department of Social Protection’s current year spending allocation, and its payment in 2015 would depend on making sufficient savings next year.

The 25pc payment will apply to a person’s full weekly social welfare payment, including any allowance for a spouse or partner and for qualifying children.

Those who have been out of work for under a year will also be excluded from the new €100 a year water subsidy, which will be payable to those who qualify for the household benefits package and fuel allowance schemes.

Over 650,000 people will benefit from this Water Services Support measure worth €25 every three months, at a total cost of over €63m next year. This includes 415,000 recipients of the household benefits package, which includes all pensioners over 70 years of age, and 238,000 Fuel Allowance recipients on long-term social welfare.

Wealthy pensioners with a substantial private income will also be able to apply for tax relief worth up to €100 a year on their water bills, meaning they could end up paying less for water than those on the basic state pension.Asked if some pensioners would effectively receive a double subsidy on their water bills, Ms Burton said that was a matter for the Department of Finance.

Senior Department of Social Protection official Denis Moynihan said it would be administratively difficult to separate out pensioners who would qualify for both the water subsidy and the tax break, and there were no plans to do this, although it might be considered in the future.

The living alone allowance, which is paid to pensioners and those on disability payments who live on their own, is also being increased by €1.30 a week to €9, in a move worth €68 a year each to its 177,500 recipients.

Ms Burton said she was providing this increase “in recognition of the fact that people living alone can be more vulnerable to economic deprivation than two-person households where resources can be pooled”.

The free travel scheme and electricity or gas allowance and free TV licence are also unchanged.

At a glance

* A Christmas bonus of 25pc of weekly welfare rates will be paid out in December.

* A single pensioner on €230 a week will get €57, a pensioner couple will get €109.

* A couple on long-term jobseeker’s allowance with three children will get €100.

* 1.16m people will benefit to tune of €63.5m.

* Those on other long-term welfare payments will also qualify for the bonus.

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