Friday 24 November 2017

Families still waiting for school costs allowances

Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

ALMOST 2,000 applications for state help with back-to-school costs have still not been processed, despite students returning to the classroom two months ago.

Payment of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BSCFA) has been hit with delays for the second year in a row, with many frustrated parents forced to find the money elsewhere.

Despite introducing a new automated system this year that was to fast-track payments, figures from the Department of Social Protection show that, as of October 24, 1,826 applications still hadn't been processed.

Charities warned that delays in getting the payment to cover the cost of uniforms and shoes were putting already over-stretched families under greater financial pressure and forcing them to fall into arrears on other bills or resort to moneylenders.

The department's automated system identified 127,000 households -- almost a quarter of a million children -- who qualified for the benefit this year. The majority of these received their payments in June and July.

However, the system failed to identify another 64,000 households that were entitled to the benefit. These people had to make written applications to the department before they received their payment.

Almost 91,000 written applications were received by officials, although almost 30pc of these did not qualify.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul said the department might have to consider issuing the payment earlier so that all applications were processed before pupils returned in September.

Concern

"It's unfortunate that anyone is left going almost two months into the school year without their payment," said a spokesman.

"It means they have got to find that money somewhere. Our concern would be they might have gone to a moneylender or fallen into arrears with other bills.

"Also, it's not right that people have to pay upfront and then get the money back later. The people you are dealing with don't have a level of disposable income," he added.

An increased budget of €82m was set aside for the scheme this year, up from €77m in 2010.

Irish Independent

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