A Multyfarnham woman who is on the national executive of Active Retirement Ireland, was among those who made a presentation last week to the Dáil's Joint Committee on Social Protection, on the question of how carbon tax will affect the elderly.
The committee called on the government to honour its promise to introduce a vouched fuel allowance scheme to offset the carbon levy on home heating fuels and that this scheme is put in place before the autumn of this year.
Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs the Chief Executive Officer of Active Retirement Ireland, Maureen Kavanagh, said: "There is an acceptance among our membership that efforts have to be made to adapt in order to protect our climate. We understand that policies need to be implemented to change behaviour across all of the population. However, we also believe that the carbon tax is something that will impact disproportionately on older people."
Active Retirement Ireland is the national representative body for 495 Active Retirement Associations throughout Ireland, with a total membership of 23,000 people. In the run up to the introduction of the carbon tax at the end of April, the association was inundated with calls and concerns from its membership about the impact of the tax on their pension income.
Even though the tax is now in place, it is not clear how exactly the scheme will be administered to ensure that it does not impose unnecessary hardship on those who are at risk of poverty. "While we are enjoying a period of almost unprecedented good weather, the autumn months are not far away and the issue requires urgent action before we see older people switching off the heat because of a fear of not being able to pay their bills," said Ms Kavanagh.
Active Retirement Ireland is proposing that an extra allowance of €4 per week be made to people in receipt of the State pension for the 30 weeks currently covered by the fuel allowance. Alternatively, it is suggesting that home heating oil be added to the categories covered under the Household Benefit Package, which is available to older people in receipt of the State pension.
On a more general level, Active Retirement Ireland said that more information on the fuel needs of older people, and planned responses to their energy use and efficiency was required.
"Older people do not want to consider major investments in heating infrastructure and energy-efficient mechanisms. Many still depend on solid fuel and feel that a changeover to a more efficient fuel type would be too costly for them. A specific analysis of the fuel needs and appropriate education initiatives that reflect their fuel consumption would be advantageous in the longer term," said Ms Kavanagh.
Active Retirement Ireland also said that extending the Warmer Home Scheme - operated by the Sustainable Energy Authority - on a country-wide basis could also go some way towards improving energy efficiency, particularly among those moving towards retirement age.