Over €900m has been paid out to social welfare claimants who did not qualify for assistance under standard State welfare schemes in the past five years.
The cash payments made under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme include almost €212m in one-off awards in respect of specific purchases, which are approved at the discretion of welfare officers.
A total of 753,796 such payments have been approved in the past five years, for items including household appliances, travel expenses, and child-related items such as prams and cots.
The figures were released by the Department of Social Protection in response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme has been described by the department as the “safety net” of the social welfare system, which provides assistance to claimants who do not qualify for payment under other State schemes.
Payments can be made in the form of a weekly allowance or a once-off award to cover exceptional expenditure that a claimant could not reasonably be expected to meet from their weekly income.
“There is no automatic entitlement to a payment under the scheme,” explained a spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection.
“Exceptional needs payments are payable at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme, taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case.”
Previously, costs relating to children’s communions and confirmations were covered by the scheme, but this practice was discontinued in 2013.
The number of exceptional needs payments approved in 2014 fell from 132,630 to 106,911 — representing a saving of €5.6m.
Between 2011 and 2015, a total of 751,645 exceptional needs payments were paid out at the discretion of welfare officers at a cost of €211m.
A further 2,151 cash awards were made in the form of urgent needs payments at a cost of €705,000 during the same period.
Urgent needs payments comprise once-off payments for claimants who would not otherwise qualify for Supplementary Welfare Allowance but have an urgent need that they cannot meet from within their own resources, according to the department.
A total of €643.3m has also been paid out in the form of a weekly Basic Supplementary Welfare Allowance, which may be awarded to claimants awaiting the outcome of an application.
In these circumstances, payments issued under this scheme may be recouped from the primary social welfare scheme if the application is subsequently approved.
The Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme also provided €49m in supplementary payments to individuals with particular heating, dietary, or travel needs as a result of medical conditions or infirmity.
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