Extra €4.6m set aside for parents struggling to afford uniforms
THE Department of Social Protection has set aside an extra €4.6m this year to help families buy clothes and shoes for the new school term.
That is because they expect a surge in the number of applications for social welfare benefits to fund back-to-school costs.
About 160,000 families are expected to apply for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance this summer ahead of the start of the new school year in September.
In 2009, there were 140,000 applications for the allowance.
The Department of Social Protection has confirmed to the Irish Independent that one reason for the allocation of extra funding to the clothing and footwear allowance is to cover a projected increase in the number of children needing help.
The rising number of children starting second-level education is another reason, as secondary school pupils qualify for the higher rate payment of €305 for those aged 12-22 instead of the €200 payment for children aged 2-11.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said yesterday that while a greater number of children were expected to be covered by the scheme, an actual figure would not be available until all applications were processed in November.
The majority of the 160,000 families eligible for social welfare benefits to help with back-to-school costs have already received their payments under a new automated system.
Last year, delays in issuing the allowance meant some parents had to take out credit union loans and even resort to money-lenders to meet the cost of uniforms and school shoes.
However, the department has taken over administration of the scheme from the Health Services Executive and, for the first time, payments are being sent out automatically to all eligible families. Already 127,000 of an expected 160,000 families have received the payment.
Meanwhile, the children's charity Barnardos has warned that even with the allowance, many parents are struggling to cope with uniform and school book costs.
Chief executive Fergus Finlay called on the Government to ensure grants for schoolbook rental schemes were being allocated. He also demanded that school budgets be protected from further cuts.
•The Irish Independent will publish a 20-page guide to tackling the costs of preparing children to go back to school on Tuesday, August 9.