Delays in paying maternity benefit to women due to give birth have been described as “unbelievable and unacceptable” and as “adding to the stress” of parents awaiting a new arrival.
Figures from the Department of Social Protection, which processes the payments, show a backlog of more than 2,850 claims waiting to be processed. Of these, 1,300 women have already commenced maternity leave. The delays have been ongoing since the first week of February.
Early Childhood Ireland said that for some people, maternity benefit is the only source of income while on maternity leave.
“Any delay in receiving it places a severe financial burden on new parents at a time when they want to be focusing on their new baby,” said chief executive Teresa Heeney.
Sinn Féin’s spokesman on children and youth affairs, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, said the situation is “frankly unbelievable and unacceptable”.
“Minister [Leo] Varadkar’s failure to deal with this promptly will be viewed as gross incompetence, and a declaration of what is to come if his leadership bid were to be successful,” said Mr Ó Laoghaire.
While the social protection minister has said that women who find themselves under financial pressure can apply for a supplementary welfare allowance or exceptional needs payment in the interim, Mr Ó Laoghaire said most women would not qualify for these payments.
The department said it would “strongly encourage online applications for maternity benefit”; that the new system supports online applications; and the customer gets “instant feedback”.
The department said once a claim is awarded and where leave has commenced, payment will issue on the following Monday and this will “include any arrears due”.
The department also said the number of claims being processed in advance of the maternity leave date is improving — “those experiencing a delay can expect to have their claim processed within a maximum of three to four weeks of commencing their leave”.
The average time to process a paper application is six weeks.
The department said the delays are temporary and have been caused by a combination of high staff turnover and a new IT system.
To alleviate delays, six additional staff have been assigned to the area in recent weeks. “All available staff are working overtime, including Saturdays on this task,” said the department.
There are no delays with processing applications for paternity benefit. To date, (since September 1 to April 26), some 12,370 people have claimed and received this payment.
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