Monday 24 June 2019

IT system upgrade will easily enable a means test for child payments

Cost warning: Joan Burton Picture: Frank McGrath
Cost warning: Joan Burton Picture: Frank McGrath

Anne-Marie Walsh

The Government could easily create a means test for the child benefit payment by expanding a new IT system set up to enable childcare subsidies.

A new means-tested childcare subsidy scheme is being designed that will merge social welfare and Revenue information into one database.

This could provide the template to check incomes for child benefit payments if the Government rolled it out.

The new IT system could be in place by the end of next year.

At the moment, a means-tested system that subsidises childcare for parents on low incomes can check social welfare data only by using PPS numbers.

However, only half of the more than 600,000 families who claim child benefit get a second social-welfare payment so it would not hold details of their income.

A spokesperson at Minister Katherine Zappone's Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Jerry O'Connor, said details of income from Revenue would be added to the system.

"It is a work in progress," said Mr O'Connor. "What is in place at the moment is an interim measure.

"When we build the full affordable childcare scheme, there will be data sharing with Revenue and the Department of Social Protection and Employment Affairs. If you work, we will be working with Revenue. If you don't work, it will be Social Protection. The new system will be very flexible and allow future governments to alter it."

He said work on building the system was about to begin and the legislative framework would be passed in the coming weeks.

However, he said a deadline has not been set to roll it out and it had previously had to overcome IT problems.

The roll-out means it would be much easier to implement a means-tested system than it was six years ago when a major report recommended the introduction of a two-tier child benefit system.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said it would be cumbersome to introduce means-testing.

Former minister Joan Burton also said it would mean a huge amount of administrative effort. She favoured taxing child benefit for the wealthy.

Tanya Ward of the Children's Rights Alliance said means-testing was abandoned in the past because it would cost so much.

She said the alliance supported the system put forward by barrister Ita Mangan of a basic payment for all parents, with top ups for the lower paid.

Irish Independent

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