Only three families gave child benefit back to State
Ireland has eight billionaires and some 20,000 millionaires, but just three families have handed back their children's allowance to the State, it has been learnt.
The reluctance of the well-off to forego the social welfare payment is revealed in new figures compiled by the Department of Social Protection.
Two of the families who gave back their children's allowance have one child, while the other family has two children.
But about 600,000 other families are still getting child benefit for more than 1.1 million children and a cost to the State of almost €2bn.
Last week, multi-millionaire Michael O'Leary railed against the child benefit payment in an interview with a Dutch publication and called for reform.
"I'm a multimillionaire, but my wife gets four cheques each month [€530] to support our four children. This is insane," he said.
According to the Department of Social Protection, the facility to voluntarily surrender a child benefit payment has always existed. A person cannot be compelled to accept a social welfare payment to which they might be entitled.
"If a parent does not wish to claim their child benefit payment, they can notify the Department of Social Protection in writing to that effect and their claim will be stopped in accordance with their wishes," a spokeswoman told the Sunday Independent.
Last month, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton admitted to the Dail that government expenditure on child benefit remained among the highest in Europe, with benefit rates to be standardised at €130 for all children from January 2014. There are proposals for a new two-tiered child benefit system from the Government's advisory group on tax and social welfare, headed by Ita Mangan.
In February, the group published proposals that would see the universal monthly sum lowered by €20 to €110 per month.
Ms Mangan said there was no perfect solution to reforming the payment, and many families would lose out.
According to the Department of Social Protection, the figure for the number of children in the State whose parents might have entitlement to child benefit but who have never claimed it is not available, but only three families who had availed of child benefit had decided that they would no longer claim it and notified the State.