Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Parents stress over back to school allowance delays

Parents of 45,000 children have yet to receive back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance payment this week even as children are already starting school.  

It may take up to six weeks to clear the backlog of allowances of between €200 - €305 payable per child.  

Around 1,000 requests are arriving in welfare offices every day and this may not let up for some time yet.  

The huge increase in demand is due to the economic downturn and the rise in unemployment.

“This delay is increasing the likelihood of some parents having to go into arrears on other bills or resorting to money lenders in order to have all the school materials for their children,” said Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), who warned about the problem early in August, has suggested that schools should allow pupils to return to school without their uniforms because of the delay in processing payments. 

SVP welcomed automation of existing payment claims - 127,000 automated payments made since July - but the delay is in processing new applications. 

Some 200,000 parents have applied for the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance so far.

While recognising that the Department has put additional resources in place to deal with the increased number of applications,  SVP is concerned for the many families whose applications will not be processed in time for the re-opening of schools.  

It is asking the Department to do everything possible to clear the backlog of applications and for payments to be channelled through the Community Welfare Officer Service for people who will not receive their payment in time.

SVP National President Mairead Bushnell said, “Back to school time is a very stressful period for all parents, but especially those parents who are reliant on State payments to assist with school uniforms and footwear and who also have to deal with the cost of school books.  Parents are really panicking over this delay.”

There has been some good news for cash strapped parents this week, as pupils will be able to pass on their schoolbooks to younger siblings from next year.  

A move by book publishers not to revise any edition of a book within four years of publication will potentially save tens of millions every year for families and students around the country according to the SVP. 

The charity ran a campaign and petition (signed by 8,800), which prompted the change by publishers who will introduce the policy next year (2012).  

The Irish Educational Publishers Association (IEPA) agreed a new code of practice that means pupils can pass on their books to younger siblings and parents can sell them on the second hand market. 

Publishers have also agreed to assist schools in operating schoolbook rental schemes and to work with the Department of Education and charities such as SVP to establish a schoolbook voucher scheme.

“We would like to thank Minister Quinn and the IEPA for listening to our campaign and committing to the essential and practical changes which will save millions of euro for families and SVP in supporting Back to School costs in the coming years,” said Audrey Deane, Social Justice & Policy, SVP.

The group estimates that there are over one million children, young people and adults in education in Ireland and the average costs of school books is €125 in primary and €238 a year in secondary.