Claims for Government help with back-to-school costs are coming in at a rate of 1,200 a day and rising — but the payments have been cut by up to half in two years.
The Department of Social Protection expects the number of new applications for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BSCFA) to significantly increase over the next few weeks.
Up to last week, 30,000 applications were received for processing, and are now coming in at a rate of around 6,000 a week. The section of the department handling BSCFA claims was this week processing claims received just over a fortnight ago.
But 13,000 of the 14,000 claimants whose applications are finalised have qualified for payments. This has seen €3m paid out in respect of around 25,000 children of those families.
These payments were in addition to the €30m also paid out last week to 115,000 families with their normal weekly social welfare payment, in line with 2012 figures.
Last year, a total of €66m was spent on the scheme, down from €90m in 2011. But cuts to the amounts paid by €50 a child — the second year running the rates have been cut — will see the total cost fall further to less than €49m this year.
For families who get the payment this year, €100 will be paid for each child aged from four to 11, and €200 for older children, up to the age of 22 if they are in full-time education. These are down from rates of €200 and €305, respectively, in 2011.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has called for child benefit to be retained for families whose children are still in school after reaching 18. The payment of child benefit for 19-year-olds was stopped in Jan 2010.
In letters to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, the charity said losing the payment when children turn 18 is a serious problem for low-income families struggling to meet school-related costs.
“We are making this request on behalf of families in need and our members who are concerned that the result of this cut will be lower rates of school completion and educational progression among disadvantaged children and young people, and increased levels of stress and hardship for families,” it said.
The SVP said children who started school late — or who were held back because of educational, developmental, health, or family issues but who have managed to overcome these challenges and are still in second level at the age of 18 — now face this additional barrier to continuing their studies.
A department spokesperson said a number of social welfare supports, including the BSCFA, are available to families on low incomes to help with the costs of children in full- time education up to the age of 22. She said the Government has made no decision on the recommendations in this year’s report of an advisory group on child benefit, but its recommendations on the structure of children and family income support payments will be considered in deliberations on Budget 2014.
The weekly income limits to qualify for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance are:
* With 1 child — Couple: €563.60; Lone parent: €410.10.
* 2 children — Couple: €593.40; Lone parent: €439.90.
* 3 children — Couple: €623.20; Lone parent: €469.70.
* 4 children — Couple: €653; Lone parent: €499.50.
* Any income from rent supplement, mortgage interest supplement, family income supplement and some allowances, is not counted.
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