Number of vulnerable families relying on moneylenders is on the increase, says SVP

Charity calls for hike in ‘exceptional needs’ grant to stop families resorting to moneylenders

Families are putting moneylender debts ahead of household bills and food, according to the Society of St Vincent de Paul. The charity is calling for an extra €20 million to be invested in the exceptional needs payment grant, to prevent households turning to moneylenders.

The president of the St Vincent de Paul (SVP) Kieran Stafford said the charity has seen a rise in families depending on both legal and illegal moneylenders in the last year.

The charity said the budget for the exceptional needs payment should be increased from €30 million to €50 million in the next budget. The payment is a Department of Social Protection grant low-income households can avail of to help pay for unexpected expenses or once-off exceptional occasions.

“From our experience, almost every household that we are going into has some link with a moneylender,” Mr Stafford said. Last year the SVP received requests for financial assistance from 130,000 homes.

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The SVP offers limited financial support to struggling individuals and families by providing money towards household utilities, or offering food vouchers. In 2016 the charity provided more than €33 million in direct financial assistance to households in financial difficulty.

Mr Stafford said: “The people that we are helping are just on such low incomes that bills and utilities, rising rents, have forced people to access money from lenders when they just can’t make up the difference themselves.”

“We’re finding that people can’t afford to service the most basic bills, or buy food, because they are prioritising paying moneylenders. Because they’ve taken out loans that they can’t afford to pay,” he said.

Mr Stafford was speaking at the SVP pre-budget submission to the Government on Tuesday.

The SVP also called for the system of voluntary contributions in schools to be dropped, and for the Government to restore the back-to-school allowance for low-income families to 2011 levels, giving an increase in €100. The charity’s pre-budget submission also called for child benefit payments to continue for children over the age of 18, until they finish secondary school.

Trisha Keilty, policy officer at the St Vincent de Paul said the charity wants to see “prioritised investment in housing, education, energy efficiency measures, as well as targeted income supports for those at the furthest margins of society”.

Labour TD and former minister for social protection Joan Burton said she hoped the new taoiseach Leo Varadkar took note of the SVP's proposals. "There was nothing for children in last year's budget. Many of the measures [it proposes] make sense, such as investing in the insulation of cold homes and improving capitation for schools," she said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times