40,000 new claims for school aid overwhelm officials

The Irish Times – Thursday, August 25, 2011

CARL O’BRIEN

THERE HAS been a huge increase in requests from families for
assistance with the cost of sending their children back to school.

Almost 200,000 parents have applied for the back-to-school clothing
and footwear allowance, 30,000 more than the Government had budgeted
for. The allowances are worth up to €305 per child.

Requests are arriving in welfare offices at the rate of 1,000 a day
and may continue to be made until the end of September. The economic
downturn and the rise in unemployment means significantly more parents
now qualify for the means-tested payment.

While the majority of claims were automatically paid in June,
officials are still trying to process more than 40,000 requests for
assistance.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said 50
officials were working “flat out” to process them, but conceded that
many will not be made in time for the start of the school year.

Some €82 million was set aside for the allowance in 2011. The surge in
demand is likely to cost the State at least €12 million more than it
budgeted for, though officials have stressed all valid claims will be
paid.

Children’s charity Barnardos expressed concern yesterday that delays
in processing applications were putting further financial pressure on
parents. “This delay is increasing the likelihood of some parents
having to go into arrears on other bills or resorting to money lenders
in order to have all the school materials for their children,” said
Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul has suggested that schools should
allow pupils to return to school without their uniforms because of the
delay in processing payments.

The number seeking back-to-school welfare payments has increased
dramatically in recent years. There were 88,000 applicants in 2007,
rising to 160,000 last year. Yesterday, this figure had risen to
198,000 and is on course to exceed 200,000 later this week.

The back-to-school allowance is worth €200-€305 per child, depending
on their age.