Energy benefit vouchers no more as reductions to be included in bill

Families entitled to reductions on their utility bills will start receiving discounted water and electricity bills.

Families on social welfare, beneficiaries of the energy vouchers, will start receiving utility bills already discounted. This means that such beneficiaries will no longer be required to redeem their energy benefit vouchers.

The previous administration had introduced energy vouchers to ease off pressure for families in financial difficulties. The vouchers were presented with the settlement of the water and electricity bills. Such vouchers will no longer be necessary as ARMS Ltd will start issuing discounted bills as of next year.

Addressing the press in St George's Square, Family Minister Marie Louise Coleiro Preca said people in need should not be labelled.

"Why should a person be identified as in need? We are serious about fighting labelling," the minister said, adding that energy benefits for 2014 will total €4.3 million.

Flanked by parliamentary secretary for the elderly Franco Mercieca, Coleiro Preca also announced government's plans for a "siblings home". There are currently 160 siblings under care order. Most of the times, siblings are separated due to lack of space in shelters or fostering homes. The government was now analysing the possibilities of developing a shelter for siblings and expand talks with foster carers to see how siblings could remain together.

€125,000 have been allocated in the budget for this aim.

"It is a double trauma for children who are placed under care order and then separated. The policy we are drafting seeks to keep the siblings together," she said.

Coleiro Preca said it was "historic" that a national commission for the development of children's policy and strategy was set up.

"For the first time we are focusing on giving a voice and visibility to children," she said.

Another electoral promise being maintained was the setting up family resource centres within the community. The centres will be developed through ESF funds.

The minister said the budget was addressing social exclusion, seeing people's needs and reaching out to them. Due to rising expenses in December, January's children's allowance will be issued a month before while pensions will be adjusted according to the cost of living adjustment every month.

The government was also seeking to enter into public social partnerships with NGOs. The total allocation for social NGOs has reached €1.6 million, while the allocation to Caritas was increased by €320,000.

On his part, Franco Mercieca said persons with disability were very dear to the government and have increased their support budget by €2 million.

"We have also allocated funds to increase the number of persons who can attend day centres, furthering their possibilities to education," Merceica said.

On homes, Mercieca said the government had allocated funds for the maintenance and upkeep of residential homes and plans on opening smaller homes within the community.

On the door-to-door delivery of medicines, Mercieca said measure formed part of the government's strategy in ensuring that medicines were accessible to all.

"A white paper will be published in the coming weeks with the first step to solve the out-of-stock syndrome," he said. "Once that issue is under control, we will move on to the distribution of medicine."