1,000 applications a day for school clothing allowance

Mon, Aug 27, 2012, 01:00

APPLICATIONS FOR the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance are now being received by the Department of Social Protection at a rate of almost 1,000 a day, latest figures show.

The allowance of €150 for primary schoolchildren and €250 for secondary students is paid to most families in receipt of social welfare payments to assist with the extra school costs.

More than 115,000 families representing over 200,000 children have been receiving the payments automatically.

Nearly €40 million has been paid to this group under the scheme, which has a budget this year of €63.7 million.

A further 67,000 applications have been received by the department from families who did not automatically qualify. Almost 40,000 of these claims have been processed and those families have received their decision.

Officials are currently processing claims received that were on July 24th. Applications for the means-tested scheme will be accepted up to the end of September.

The allowance is not intended to meet the full cost of school clothing and footwear, but only to give assistance towards these costs.

A survey by children’s charity Barnardos has found many parents struggle to meet back-to-school payments due to increasingly stretched household incomes.

Its poll of almost 1,000 parents found average parents were paying €355 for a child in senior infants and €770 for children going into first year in secondary school.

School books and uniforms continued to pose the highest cost to parents, although voluntary contributions and transport costs also weighed heavily on budgets.

The volume of applications for the allowance means the department will be under pressure to try to keep payments within its allocated budget this year. Last year the cost of the allowance rose to a record €90 million following a surge in applications, up from €77 million the previous year – a 16 per cent increase.

In an effort to cut costs, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton announced a series of cuts to the allowance following last December’s budget.

These included discontinuing the allowance for children aged two and three years old – on the basis they were not of school-going age – and reducing the overall rate of payments by up to €55.

Both measures were aimed at trimming a total of €26 million off the overall budget.

Internal department documents state that it is estimated that 170,000 families will benefit from the scheme this year, compared to 194,000 in 2011.

The reduction in numbers will be as a result of restrictions on children aged two and three not qualifying, as in previous years.