herald

Friday 19 January 2018

Backlog as 200,000 families apply for back-to-school cash

SOCIAL welfare officials are struggling to process a deluge of back-to-school allowance claims in time for the start of term.

The Government said in May that it was budgeting for 160,000 applications from families but the actual figure has turned out to be much higher.

Almost 200,000 parents have now sought the assistance, which covers clothing and footwear and is worth up to €305 per child.

Up to €200 is available for eligible children aged two to 11, with €305 for students aged 12 to 22.



Woes

Some 80pc of applicants automatically received the payments but officials have to means test the remainder.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton told the Herald the applications reached 3,000 a day at one stage but had now fallen to 1,000.

She said the money had been paid out in respect of about a quarter of a million children or nearly 150,000 households.

Ms Burton added that 127,000 families were automatically eligible for the claim but that a further 67,000 applications have been received so far.

Of the extra number, 20,000 have been processed.

Ireland's economic woes have been blamed for the higher than expected number, with the rise in unemployment being a key factor.

Claims have increased significantly in recent years, rocketing from 88,000 in 2007 to this year's level.

The 200,000 mark is expected to be breached later this week.

Families are now likely to face long delays before they receive the allowance, though the Department of Social Protection has stressed all eligible families will be paid.

People on social welfare and lower income families are entitled to the payment.

But thousands of parents will have to wait until October or later to receive the cash.

The department has redeployed 14 of its staff to tackle the backlog.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul has expressed concern that families may not receive the allowance before the new school term begins within days.

It asked schools to take into account that pupils might have to return to class without their uniforms.

The society asked the Government to do everything possible to clear the backlog.

National President Mairead Bushnell added: "Parents are really panicking over this delay."

Barnardos Ireland chief executive Fergus Finlay told RTE's Morning Ireland: "The thing that parents mustn't do is that they mustn't keep their children back from school. They mustn't panic at this stage. We would strongly encourage parents not to get into debt over this."

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