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40,000 new claims for school aid overwhelm officials

Resource type: News

The Irish Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By 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.

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Barnardos is an Atlantic grantee.

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