Burton left red-faced as 32,000 welfare payments are delayed
SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton's plan to move to a "cashless" social welfare system suffered an embarrassing setback after 32,000 people had their social welfare payments delayed.
The failure to put the money into people's bank accounts on time came on the very same day that the Cabinet approved her plan to get all customers to receive payments into their bank accounts over the next two years.
At the moment, around half of all social welfare payments are made in cash. In future, customers will be encouraged to get their payments made directly to their bank accounts but will still have the choice of getting cash.
Ms Burton's department said the electronic payment of social welfare benefits to 32,000 people had been held up for 24 hours. The money had been due to go into people's bank accounts yesterday but the payments are only being made today.
The Department of Social Protection said the day-long delay in making 15 different social welfare payments was due to a "once-off processing issue". The department has insisted it was not a technical hitch and that the problem stemmed more from a "confused message" about when the payments should be made.
It upgraded its payment system last month so that social welfare payments could be processed within two days instead of three. However, due to a mix-up in the department, the system was programmed to process the latest batch of payments within three days instead of two days.
"The Department of Social Protection very much regrets this delay and apologises for any inconvenience caused to customers," it said in a statement.
It is the first time for many years that there has been an interruption in social welfare payments. The department has to handle payments to 1.5 million people a week – and a total of 87 million payments per year.
The payments involved are jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's allowance; illness benefit; domiciliary care allowance; occupational injuries benefit; partial capacity benefit; farm assist; back to work allowance; supplementary welfare allowance; back to school clothing and footwear allowance; family income supplement; back to education allowance; one-parent family payment; JobBridge; pre-retirement allowance; and maternity benefit.
The department said that other payments have not been affected. Social welfare customers who have been left in difficulty have been told to contact their community welfare officer who can make emergency cash payments.
The department has insisted that customers cannot take legal action against the department as a result of the delay.
"The department does not enter an actual contract with its customers regarding payments, the department makes every effort to ensure that payment is issued on the due date," it said.