Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Questions (237)

Willie O'Dea


237. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason there were long delays with issuing the payment of the back to school clothing and footwear allowance in 2018; if provisions were put in place for families awaiting the payment; if she will consider putting mechanisms in place to ensure delays with issuing the payment do not occur in 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41331/18]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

The back to school clothing and footwear allowance (BSCFA) scheme provides a once-off payment to eligible families to assist with the costs of clothing and footwear when children start or return to school each autumn. The Government has provided €49.5 million for the scheme in 2018.

The payment rates for this year are €125 for eligible children aged 4 to 11 years and €250 for children aged over 12 years and attending secondary school.

Since 2010, in excess of 100,000 customers can be identified every year from the Department's computer system as having an automatic entitlement to the allowance. These customers are notified of their entitlement and there is no requirement for them to make an application. In addition, approximately 45,000 customers may have an entitlement but need to apply to have this entitlement assessed.

Similar to arrangements in previous years, the majority of this year’s BSCFA payments for 104,461 families in respect of approximately 190,308 children were fully automated and parents were not required to make an application to the Department. The total amount paid to families with an automatic entitlement was €33.45m and these payments were made during the week commencing 9th July 2018.

In order to qualify for an automated payment the parent of the child must have been in receipt of a qualifying payment that included an increase in respect of a qualified child at the commencement of the scheme and the Department were satisfied that the household satisfied the means test for the scheme. The scheme commenced from the 1st June 2018 with the entitlement created based on the preceding week's entitlement.

The back to school clothing and footwear allowance is a mean-tested allowance. Qualifying for the allowance in a previous year does not in any way guarantee the customer will receive it in a current year and many customers, especially those who had a change in their means or circumstance, needed to make an application for the payment for this year in order to have their entitlement validated. Customers with children aged 18 years or over also needed to apply and provide confirmation that the children were in full-time second-level education.

Customers who may have received BSCFA in previous years and did not receive written confirmation of entitlement for this year by end June needed to make an application. The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance scheme was open for new applications until 30 September 2018. The scheme is now closed.

To date (6 October 2018) 142,419 families have been awarded the allowance in respect of 263,239 children, 10,598 applications have been refused and 1,752 are awaiting a decision. Expenditure to date on the scheme is €46.7m.

All applications received up to 26 September 2018 have been processed. The delays in processing applications over the summer arose as a result of a combination of initial technical issues which arose due to the transfer of the scheme to a new IT platform and a very high volume of new applications received since the beginning of July. The technical issues were identified and resolved. The number of applications received usually peaks in July and August and tends to taper off after that. Some 1,200 - 1,400 applications per day were received during this period this year.

However, I can assure you that all outstanding claims are being dealt with expeditiously. As the new system for processing applications is now well established I am confident that improvements will be achieved in processing BSCFA applications for 2019.