The Department of Social Protection has already paid out over two-thirds of its budget for helping families with back-to-school costs just six weeks after the €46m scheme opened.
Even before primary schools had closed in late June, it had over 18,500 applications from homes which did not automatically qualify. More than 5,729 claims were received last week alone, and just over half the 30,000 applications to date have been decided.
The department is this week paying €28.3m to 114,312 families who did not need to apply as they are already receiving one of a number of qualifying social welfare payments, a slight decrease on automatic payments made last year.
And as the first payments to over 13,000 successful applicants are also made, the cost to date for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance is already at €32.2m.
“Claims are processed speedily and there are no delays in dealing with manual claims. Payments for automatic award cases and the initial batch of manually processed claims are issuing this week,” a Department of Social Protection spokesperson said.
Although the rates of payment are unchanged — €100 for pupils aged four to 11 and €200 for those aged 12 to 22 — the scheme no longer pays for dependent children over 18 in third-level education. The department estimates around 13,500 people over 18 attending third-level qualified for the allowance in 2013, which could mean the change saves Social Protection Minister Joan Burton €2.7m this year.
The scheme’s €46.3m budget is barely over half of the €90m cost in 2011, with cuts to the payment rates and other changes seeing it drop to €66m in 2012 and €48m a year ago. The department said the allowance is not intended to meet the full cost of school clothing and footwear, only assistance toward the costs.
Meanwhile, as supermarkets lay claim to the country’s best-value school uniform deals, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said parents should ask retailers if child labour has been used in the making of their own children’s clothes.
Aldi will sell a trousers or skirt, two-pack of polo shirts and sweater for under €6.50 from next Thursday, while Tesco launched a €6 bundle of a trousers or skirt, polo shirt and sweatshirt.
An Aldi spokesperson said their products are ethically sourced from a reputable supplier, and Tesco said it works closely with suppliers to provide customers with the assurance that products are made under fair and decent conditions.
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