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Thursday 25 May 2017

Struggling parents face eight-week delay for school aid

Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

STRUGGLING families seeking financial help as their children head back to school face a wait of up to eight weeks.

More than 1,000 applications are continuing to flood into welfare offices each day -- long after pupils have already returned to classrooms across the country.

The Department of Social Protection confirmed it may be November before the current claims are processed due to the high volume of parents seeking aid.

Meanwhile, primary school teachers have been "turning a blind eye" to pupils coming in without a uniform.

A spokesman for the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said a number of principals have noticed children returning without uniforms as their parents are under severe financial pressure.

"They noticed a number were back at school without a uniform. They were turning a blind eye to it," he said.

He added that a number of primary schools had asked parents with school uniforms that their children had grown out of -- but which were still in good condition -- if they could give them to the school to pass on to parents in need.

"It has to be done sensitively."

Gerry Murphy, president of the Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN), said there was an insufficient database on children nationwide and their various entitlements to state aid.

"There is a better database on cattle, sheep and pigs than on children and what their entitlements are," he said.

"The information should be readily available as to how many children there are and they are entitled to X, Y and Z."

He said the Irish educational system lags behind its European counterparts in terms of embracing technology -- with rollbooks used to record attendance rather than a computer database.

So far more than 202,000 parents have either automatically received or applied for the back-to-school and footwear allowance which provides grant aid of up to €305 for a child.

More than 152,000 households with more than 300,000 children have been granted aid.

Since the start of July, a further 75,000 claims have been lodged and workers have processed 34,500 of these and granted monies in 25,500 cases.

Refused

Some 3,500 applications were refused, 4,750 returned due to insufficient information and 750 were duplicate claims.

The department said it was unable to pinpoint a date by which all applications would be processed as it was continuing to receive claims and some had to be returned due to missing information.

The number of applications continues to arrive at 1,000 a day while its 52 staff can process 1,250 a day.

The department took over processing the allowances from the health service after families complained of huge delays in getting their payments last year. This meant 127,000 households already identified as eligible for the claim were automatically paid in June.

It is expected that the amount paid out will surpass the allotted budget of €82m by at least €12m.

Irish Independent

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