20,000 families waiting for school payment
THOUSANDS of parents are still waiting for the back-to-school allowance from the Health Service Executive -- two months after children went back to school.
The allowance, which is means-tested and aimed at helping with the cost of school clothing and footwear, has drawn 190,000 applications this year. It is estimated that 5,000 additional families will get the benefit this year because of plummeting incomes.
However, the most recent figures from the HSE show that more than 20,000 are still waiting -- although the scheme closed at the end of September.
Around nine-in-10 parents who apply for the allowance are granted the payment. It is a vital support at the start of the school year, when many families are under financial pressure. The allowance ranges from €200 to €520.
The HSE said that an estimated €77.4m was paid out by the middle of last month, and around 1,500 applications had yet to be processed at that stage.
The HSE administers the payment through its network of local health offices on behalf of the Department of Social Protection, which holds the budget for the allowance.
When asked about the waiting time, the HSE said it was dealing with late applications and processing them "as quickly as possible".
Appeals by parents who were turned down are also being examined. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Social Protection Minister and the department.
It is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.
There has been a significant increase in the workload at the office in the past two years.
There has been a 48pc increase in people who have been turned down for social welfare allowances appealing their cases in the first eight months of this year -- after a 46pc surge in 2009.
A spokesperson said initiatives had been put in place to help the office deal with the current caseload.