Thousands of families ineligible for school allowances

4,000 claims for clothing and footwear assistance disallowed

 

Thousands of low-income working families have been excluded from receiving the back to school clothing and footwear allowance after falling outside the payment’s income threshold. The reduced economic circumstances of many families has resulted in tens of thousands of people applying for the payment.

Latest figures from the Department of Social Protection show that the applications of 4,000 families for the allowance have been rejected so far. Campaign groups such as Barnardos say families who are struggling to make ends meet find they are falling outside strict means-test rules by as little as €5 a week.

The eligibility rules – which do not take into account expenses such as rent or mortgage costs – mean working families in particular are unable to avail of the allowance. “We frequently hear the frustration and despair of those who exceed the threshold by just a few euro,” a Barnardos spokeswoman said. “Some are now ending up resorting to taking out loans because they can’t afford to cover the costs.”

The Department of Social Protection, however, says that payments to more than 160,000 families have been issued in recent weeks to help with back- to-school costs. It says these payments are aimed at assisting with these costs for the most vulnerable and will cost more than €40 million this year.

To qualify, a family’s total household income must be below a certain threshold, which depends on the number of children and parents in a family.

But many in receipt of the family income supplement – a welfare support aimed at low-income working families – have found they are ineligible for the payment because it uses different means-test rules.

Under family income supplement rules, for example, a couple or lone parent with three children must have an income below €703 to receive the payment. A couple with three children must have an income at or below €623 to avail of the back-to-school allowance; for lone parents, the limit is set even lower at €467.

Barnardos has called for these eligibility rules to widened to ensure as many families who need assistance can get it. The clothing and footwear allowance provides €200 for secondary school students and €100 for primary students. A survey by Barnardos earlier this year found average full costs for secondary school students were €735, while they were up to €380 for primary students.

One parent told researchers: “Free education is what we are meant to have in Ireland. It’s a disgrace. I have twins starting in first year in September and it’s costing over €1,200. We are not entitled to the back-to-school allowance as my husband earns €20 over the required amount.”

Figures from the Department of Social Protection show that payments were issued automatically to the majority of recipients – almost 130,000 people – with their normal weekly social welfare payment last July. As of last week, a further 53,000 applications had been received by the department. Of these, over 35,000 received a payment, while 4,000 have been disallowed. A further 13,000 people are waiting for their applications to be processed.