Cash-strapped families are waiting more than five weeks for back-to-school payments from the Department of Social Protection, which still has nearly 20,000 unprocessed applications.
Claims for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance received up to August 7 were still being dealt with yesterday at Tánaiste Joan Burton’s department.
The payment is worth €100 for primary pupils and €200 for older students, and is only paid to households receiving certain social welfare payments. They must also be earning less than certain income thresholds, for example, no more than €593 a week for a couple with two children or €440 for a lone parent of two.
While more than 58,800 applications have been received since the scheme opened in June, almost 20,000 of those have yet to be processed and finalised, although a spokesperson said 5,000 were at an advanced stage.
More than 4,500 have only arrived since the start of September but around 10,000 are now waiting three to five weeks, according to the department.
A spokeswoman said no extra staff have been assigned to the section dealing with applications over the summer, but the 51 staff there is the same number as in each of the last two years.
“The work of the area includes processing applications, dealing with customer telephone and email queries,” she said. “The processing of claims can be significantly delayed if applicants do not submit supporting documentation.”
While the 1,906 applications received last week was the lowest weekly figure since mid-June, they were arriving at a rate of 5,000 to 7,000 per week up to the end of July. The department said it continues to receive almost 400 new claims a day, but applications will close at the end of September.
Of 38,900 applications finalised so far, 35,700 have been successful, with the remaining 8% disallowed as they did not satisfy all the qualifying conditions. The €10.2m paid to families who applied is in addition to the €26.5m issued in July to 105,000 families with 200,000 children as they qualified automatically for payments.
Up to 2011, the scheme paid €305 for second-level or other older full-time students, and €200 for primary school children, but successive budgets cut both rates. The allowance is intended to help parents meet the costs of clothing and footwear for school, but recent surveys put those expenses at €170 for a child in fourth class at primary and €255 for a first-year student in second-level.
At current rates of success for applicants and with average payments of almost €300 to those who qualify, the scheme should be covered from its €44.3m budget.
Last year, €42.5m was paid in respect of 304,400 children to 166,400 households.
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