Child benefit is the main policy instrument for assisting families in Ireland with the cost of raising children. It is a universal payment paid in respect of all qualified children up to the age of 16 years, or to the age of 18 if the child is in full-time education or has a disability. It is paid to more than 615,000 families in respect of almost 1.2 million children, at a cost of €1.9 billion. It is one of the biggest payments in our social welfare system.
School attendance up to the age of 16 years is a statutory requirement under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. Consequently, all recipients of child benefit are legally required to attend school up to this age. There is a national monitoring system for statutory school attendance via the National Educational Welfare Board, which is now part of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Policy responsibility for school attendance rests with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
For children over 16 years and less than 18 years, continued payment of child benefit is dependent on the children attending school for these two years. Parents with children aged 16 and 17 years must, in respect of these two years, return to the Department of Social Protection on an annual basis a form confirming school attendance, signed by the principal of the school. If the Deputy has specific concerns about school absenteeism, the competent authorities to address these are the National Educational Welfare Board and Child and Family Agency.
I am satisfied with the existing steps that require children in receipt of child benefit to attend school up to 16 or 18 years of age, under both education and social protection policies. As I said, parents of children aged 16 and 17 years must provide confirmation from their school principal that the children are in attendance at school.