Requests for school return cost funds fall
on 05/09/2013 00:00:00
After the last of the country's 4,000 primary and second-level schools opened this week, there are now 600 applications arriving each day to the department's Letterkenny office handling the claims.
In 2012, at the start of the new term, 700 families were applying daily. Overall, 61,500 applications have been received, down from 70,000 this time last year. Of these, 44,000 families had their allowance claim processed and 40,000 qualified for the payments. The rates are €100 for children aged four to 11 and €200 for any older child, including those aged up to 22 if they are in full-time education.
The €10.9m paid out is in addition to the 115,000 families who received automatic payments totalling €30m in July because they are in receipt of welfare payments.
This means payments have now been made to 155,000 families in respect of 283,000 children at a cost of €40.9m. However, even if applications continue to arrive at current rates until the Sept 30 deadline, the overall bill could be around €1.2m less than the €48.8m set aside, based on average payments so far this year.
Willie O'Dea, Fianna Fáil's social protection spokesman, said the fall-off in applications should not be seen as any indication of people being better off, but might be because of a lack of awareness.
"An awful lot of people who applied last year were turned down and word might have gone out there's no point applying," said Mr O'Dea.
"But the figures may also be a sign of the huge problem of emigration, as young families continue to leave Ireland."
The department said the scheme was publicised in the same manner as in 2012. "As evidenced by CSO data, unemployment is reducing, indicating that the number of people seeking other supports, including back-to-school clothing and foot-wear allowance should stabilise or reduce," said a spokesman.
He said the department will not be able to comment on year-on-year application trends until the scheme closes at the end of the month.
The amounts that a family can qualify for were not changed this year and, for example, range from €410.10 a week for a lone parent with one child to €653 a week for a couple with four children.
After last December's budget, the Department of Social Protection told the Irish Examiner it expected the number assisted under the scheme to be similar to the 187,000 who qualified last year.
Mr O'Dea said if the scheme came in under the department's estimated cost, social protection minister Joan Burton should use any savings to reverse some of the recent increases next year.
Her department said any future changes can only be considered in the overall budgetary context.