JUST two of the 600,000 families claiming child benefit have opted to give it up in the last year – despite criticism of high earners being entitled to the allowance, the Irish Independent has learned.
One of the most vocal critics has been millionaire Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, a father-of-four who would have been entitled to a monthly payment of €588 in 2012 and will be eligible for €530 in 2013 when recent Budget cuts come into effect.
He called for the scrapping of the child benefit payments, claiming that they were a "subsidy for people to have sex".
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton subsequently invited Mr O'Leary to write her Department a "short sweet letter " simply saying "I no longer require the payment and I am signing off".
However, Mr O'Leary's spokes-man declined to say if he was among the two families who had written to the Department of Social Protection asking that their child benefit be returned to the State.
A spokeswoman for the department told the Irish Independent that two families returned their child benefit in 2012 in respect of one child each.
"The reason given was not specific but both asked that the money be returned to the State," said a spokeswoman.
This amounts to €140 a month or €1,680 in a full year for each child. It means that the State will be €3,360 better off for a full year in 2012 or €3,120 in 2013 when the reduced rate comes into effect.
Child benefit payments are costing the State around €2bn a year.
In a department briefing drawn up in June of this year, officials suggested that work was under way to prepare a formal means for parents to either refuse the benefit or to return it to the Exchequer on a voluntary basis.
Ms Burton has made no secret of the fact that she would like to see child benefit for people earning over €100,000 taxed.
The Revenue Commissioners say that there are nearly 115,000 people earning more than €100,000, but it is unclear how many of these are claiming child benefit.
A spokeswoman for the department said around 1.1 million children are currently getting child benefit allowance.
But "the figure for the number of children in the State who might have entitlement to child benefit and who do not claim is not available".
The decision to cut child benefit in the Budget, reducing it by €10 a month for the first two children, €18 for the third and €20 for the fourth child has already led to uproar and the dissension of Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney.