More than 50,000 applications have been made for new pandemic payment

Fear growing among poorest working families they will be hardest hit

Fear and confusion is growing among the poorest working families that they will be the hardest hit if they are laid off because of the coronavirus crisis, advocacy organisations are warning.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul, One Family and SPARK (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids) have written to the Minister for Social Protection, Regina Doherty seeking clarification on several issues. Most pressing is whether working poor families will continue to receive the Working Family Payment (WFP) in the event of being laid off.

The WFP (formerly known as Family Income Supplement or FIS) is paid to families with children where they are on very low incomes, to bring them to a minimal threshold. It is worth about €60 per child per week, depending on how much the recipient is earning. To qualify for the WFP the person must work at least 38 hours per fortnight.

Minister Doherty said on radio on Monday where a breadwinner was laid off because of the crisis they would be entitled to a new emergency payment, the Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment. It is worth €203 a week and will be available for six weeks. Already more than 50,000 applications have been made for this payment.

On the one page application form for it, however, there is nowhere to detail child or adult dependents. It means families with children will receive just €203 per week regardless of the size of their family.

A particularly vulnerable cohort are those receiving the WFP, about half of whom are headed by lone parents. They may be working, for example, 20 hours a week to work around school hours. In the event they are laid off they will have neither their paid employment nor the WFP.

"Some lone parents will see their incomes halved overnight," said Louise Bayliss, coordinator of Spark. "People are really terrified. They are hearing different stories about whether they will still get the WFP. There is so much confusion and lack of clarity."

In the letter to the minister the organisations said it was “critical that normal payments of the WFP continue” even if parents are unable to work all of the required nineteen hours per week due to decreased availability of work as well as because of childcare requirements with schools closed.

The Department did not yet provide a response to The Irish Times on the issue.

However in a statement on Wednesday night detailing how it has received more than 50,000 claims from people who have been laid-off for the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payments it said the level of applications showed the huge impact that the pandemic is having “on our economy and on our people”.

Ms Doherty said: “The measures taken already are extraordinary but this is an extraordinary time. There is great uncertainty and much anxiety about what lies ahead. The loss of a job and an income increases this anxiety and stress. We are doing all we can to help people through this anxiety. The new payment we introduced is just one measure and it means that we can get people into payment as quickly as possible. Hopefully this will provide some measure of reassurance to people unfortunate to be laid-off. We are also calling on banks, landlords, utility providers and others to exercise forbearance with regard to payments of mortgages, rent and utility bills.”

She also paid tribute to staff at her department. “Processing 50,000 claims represents close to two months normal jobseeker claim-load. This was managed in a two day period for a new payment that didn’t exist a week ago, on new systems that had to be developed and implemented and on the basis of new legislation that is going before the Oireachtas tomorrow . It required a huge commitment and very long hours of work, and I couldn’t be prouder of the staff of the Department.”