Parents facing delays in back-to-school allowance
PARENTS waiting for payment of the back-to-school allowance are facing varying delays, from three days up to a month, in different parts of the country, it emerged yesterday.
The longest delays of up to 30 days are being experienced by parents in Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary.
The average waiting time is 15 days in Wexford, Waterford, Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary while there is a five to 10-day delay in Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.
The fastest issuing of the allowance is through HSE offices in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow, where it takes between three to five days, while in Laois, Offaly, Longford and Westmeath there is a five-day waiting period.
So far, more than €58.8m has been paid out to parents. The means-tested allowance -- which ranges from €200 to €520 -- is meant to cover some of the costs of clothing, footwear and other bills faced at the beginning of the school year.
A HSE spokesman confirmed yesterday that extra staff were being drafted in to speed up payments in Galway and the midwest.
Earlier this summer the HSE was involved in a row over allegations of nepotism concerning the hiring of relatives of senior HSE staff to work in the back-to-school allowance section.
An internal inquiry is now under way. A spokeswoman said it was still not complete.
At the end of last week, more than 27,000 claims were outstanding. The HSE has received 161,703 claims and 133,561 of these have been processed.
Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv, whose department funds the allowances, insisted yesterday that every effort was being made to fast-track outstanding applications.
"In most parts of the country, the majority of the applicants to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance scheme have had their payments issued to them.
"Nevertheless, every effort is being made by the HSE to expedite payment of outstanding claims. Most areas of the country are progressing well but there are two areas causing concern, the HSE Mid-West and HSE West region and action has been taken to address this," he added.
He said members of the public concerned about their application could contact their local HSE office or the HSE infoline on 1850 24 1850.
Labour Party education spokesman Ruairi Quinn warned that the crippling costs faced by families as children go back to school over the coming days will place an unprecedented pressure on many families.
"With more and more people now out of work, and many others on reduced incomes, and already under severe financial pressure, this a problem that Education Minister Mary Coughlan needs to take by the scruff of the neck.
"Labour has previously published the findings of research indicating that it can cost as much as €1,200 per child to cover the costs of uniforms, books, stationery etc," he added.
"The minister must also put greater pressure on schools to operate a book-rental scheme.
"Book-rental schemes can save families hundreds of euro."