Child benefit is a universal payment that assists parents with the cost of raising children and it contributes towards alleviating child poverty. The estimated expenditure on child benefit in 2013 is around €1.9 billion and it is currently paid to around 613,000 families in respect of some 1.17 million children. The Government is conscious that child benefit, as a universal payment, can be an important source of income for all families, especially during a time of recession and high unemployment.
Child benefit is paid monthly in respect of all children up to the age of 16 years and in respect of children over 16 years of age up to their 18th birthday who are in full time education or have a disability. The current age limit was set under Budget 2009 when the upper age limit that applied then was reduced from 19 years to 18 years with effect from 2010.
There are currently no plans for extending the upper age limit for child benefit. In any event, any plans to change the upper age limit could only be decided in a budgetary context.
For families on low incomes there are a number of provisions to social welfare schemes which support children in full-time education until the age of 22. These include:
- Qualified child increases to primary social welfare payments in receipt of either:
(a) A long-term social welfare payment, or
(b) A short-term social welfare payment including such payments as jobseeker’s benefit and assistance, illness benefit and supplementary welfare allowance.
- The family income supplement (FIS) scheme to low paid employees with families. This supplement is paid where a family’s weekly income is below a specified amount for the family size, and is calculated at 60% of the difference between the net family income (i.e. gross pay less tax, PRSI, USC, superannuation) and the relevant income limit.
- The back to school clothing and footwear allowance, which provides a one-off payment to eligible families to assist with the extra costs when children start school each autumn.
On a more general level, the report of the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare on family and child income supports makes important recommendations as to how child benefit could be maintained as a universal payment while reforming the current system of child and family income supports through a two-tier payment so as to better target those who need these supports most while minimising work disincentives. Given a range of complex issues involved with this proposal, including fiscal, operational and legal considerations, as well as the implications for reforms in terms of child poverty and employment incentive outcomes, the Government has made no decision at this time on the core recommendations of the report. It is the Government's intention that the report will now contribute to the broader policy debate on this important issue for families and their children.