Examination of the cost of healthy eating and specialised diets for a single individual in Ireland

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The diet supplement was introduced as part of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme in 1977. This supplement is a means to augment the payments received by recipients of social welfare or health board payments who have been prescribed a special diet as a result of a specified medical condition, and whose means are insufficient to meet their additional food needs to facilitate their short and long term health.

For those over 18 years, there are currently 12 types of diets for which the allowance is available, varying from a high fibre diet to an altered consistency diet. In order for a patient to receive the dietary supplement, s/he must be certified as in need of a specific diet either by a hospital consultant, or a hospital registrar (Where the claim is in respect of an adult or an 18 to 22 year old dependant, who needs a diabetic diet, a gluten free diet or a low cholesterol diet, the diet may be prescribed by a General Practitioner). Entitlement to a diet supplement is determined by the health boards, under the general direction and control of the Minister or Social and Family Affairs, in accordance with social welfare legislation. The amount of supplement payable depends on which of the two categories of diet has been prescribed by the applicant's medical advisor and the income of the individual and his/her dependents.

Prior to January 2004 the assessment of means for a diet supplement payment had effectively excluded social welfare budgetary increases since 1996 and similarly, the rates of diet supplement payable had not changed since 1996. During this period increases in social welfare payments out stripped food inflation and as such the gap that the diet supplement was intended to fill had narrowed. In addition when commitments to increase the real value of social welfare payments are fully implemented, there will be even less of a need for diet supplements. As such people with special dietary needs will be better able to afford their food from within their basic social welfare income, as is the case with the rest of the population. On this basis the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, in the context of announcing the Abridged Estimates Volume, 2004, decided that diet supplements, paid under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, were to be phased out over a period of time commencing in January 2004.

In general, those in receipt of a diet supplement payment prior to the introduction of the new regulations will not be affected by this change. The number of people in receipt of the diet supplement and expenditure has increased steadily over the past number of years from 8,571 recipients in 1999 at a cost of €4.67 million to 13,577 recipients at a cost of €7.04 million in 2003.

Overview of the Examination

The Department of Social and Family Affairs commissioned the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute to examine a number of issues in relation to the allowance:

  1. The average cost of a proper, nutritionally balanced healthy eating diet and to establish how this cost corresponds to the current measure of cost i.e. of a single person's basic social welfare payment.
  2. Examine the various types of diets currently prescribed and the extent of the need for a special diet over a nutritionally balanced diet.
  3. The cost of the specialised food items which form the various diets to determine the additional costs incurred by specific categories of patients, having regard to any other forms of support available to these individuals (i.e. Medical Cards).

The review will firstly cover the cost to an individual receiving social welfare payments to consume a healthy diet (no. 1) and then examine the additional cost to consume a diet required for a specific condition (no's 2 and 3).

Last modified:29/09/2008

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