More families have been automatically paid a back-to-school support payment this year, despite the decline in numbers on the Live Register.
The Department of Social Protection has been given a slightly reduced budget of €38.8m this year for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, on which it spent over €40m last year.
The allowance is worth €100 for primary school pupils and €200 for older students in low-income families to assist with costs.
A reduction last October to a €35.5m allocation for 2016 was attributed to expected further falls in numbers of applications this year “as the Live Register continues to fall”.
However, that budget has subsequently been increased by nearly 10%. Most of the payments are issued to families with children who are in receipt of any of a range of social welfare payments, saving parents having to apply and wait for their income to be assessed.
Last year, such automatic payments were made to more than 105,000 families, who received over €26.3m from the Department of Social Protection. But, despite the expected drop in eligible numbers, 3,000 more families than last year have received automatic payments.
A department spokesperson told the Irish Examiner it paid €27m during the second week of July to over 108,000 families who did not have to apply. The payments were in respect of 193,000 children.
The amount paid for each child was cut by €100 across a number of budgets during the recession, meaning the total cost to taxpayers has fallen from a height of nearly €70m in 2009 as unemployment rates soared.
However, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has given no commitment yet to providing any increases in October’s budget.
The Barnardo’s 2016 school costs survey last week showed an average cost of nearly €400 to send a fourth-class pupil back to school, and close to €800 for students entering first year.
For those families who are not automatically eligible, applications have been open since June 10 and 37,379 were received up to last Thursday. More than 5,000 have come in each full week since the scheme first opened.
Up to last Friday morning, 13,644 applications had been processed, resulting in payments being awarded to 12,423 families, meaning nearly one-in-10 have not been successful. These were valued at €3.7m, bringing total payments so far this summer to nearly €31m.
In order to qualify for the BSCFA, as well as being in receipt of certain social welfare or HSE payments, a family’s weekly income has to be inside certain thresholds.
It depends on the family type and numbers of children, but a €593 limit applies for a couple with two children, or €440 for a lone parent of two. However, certain payments like child benefit or family income supplement are not counted against the income limits.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved