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Written Answers - Social Welfare Benefits

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 752 No. 2

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 143.  Deputy Anne Ferris Information on Anne Ferris Zoom on Anne Ferris  asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  if her attention has been drawn to recent media reports that the Government was considering withdrawing or restricting the free travel scheme; if her further attention has been drawn to the concerns this has created among those who depend on the scheme, particularly elderly citizens; if she is considering any such proposals and, if so, when any changes are likely to take effect; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3157/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I do appreciate the important role that free travel plays in promoting social inclusion and preventing the isolation of elderly people.

Funding for the scheme was frozen by the previous Government at 2010 levels of expenditure as outlined in the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 and the 2011 Budget. This cap was confirmed in the 2012 Budget. The Department, therefore, is not in a position to make payments in excess of that level of expenditure during 2012. The Department has written to all companies operating the free travel scheme and has had discussions with a number of them regarding the [351]current position of the scheme and in order to try to minimise the impact of the cap on expenditure on our customers. This may have given rise to some media speculation. The Department has not proposed any changes to the operation of the scheme.

The current free travel scheme operated by the Department provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 90 private transport operators. At the end of December 2011, there were over 726,000 people in receipt of Free Travel at a cost of almost €76 million.

All of the schemes operated by the Department of Social Protection, including free travel, were examined in the context of the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure and continue to be kept under review given the ongoing need for savings. The Review continues to inform the Department’s decisions in relation to future spending.

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