October 6, 2022

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The Department of Social Protection has received a record number of applications for the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance as many families struggle to cope with the rising cost of living.

While applications for the allowance can be made online until September 30th, the department has already received 45,326 requests for financial assistance. This exceeds the total number of applications received in 2021 (40,550) and 2020 (44,410).

The allowance provides a once-off payment to means-tested families to assist with the costs of clothing and footwear when children start or return to school each autumn.

Last month the rates were increased by €100 for each eligible child under the scheme. This means the amount being paid for each qualified child aged between four and 11 years is €260 and the rate payable for each eligible child aged 12 and over is €385.

The majority of payments are made automatically without the need to apply. This year the department identified 119,000 families in receipt of a qualifying payment who satisfy the eligibility criteria for receipt of the allowance.

On foot of this, it has automatically processed and issued payments in respect of 210,500 qualified children.

The children’s charity Barnardos said that while the increase has been welcome, parents need to be paid the allowance in a timely manner to help avoid going into debt.

One Barnardos project worker said: “Feedback from parents over the years is that it needs to be received earlier in general as most families have to buy books and uniforms in advance of receiving the allowance. Receiving it so late puts parents into debt over the summer, which is already a more expensive time for families due to kids eating more food at home, the cost of activities and days out.”

A survey conducted by the charity earlier this summer indicates that more than two-thirds of primary school parents and three-quarters of secondary parents worry about covering back-to-school costs this year.

The charity said the survey of more than 1,100 parents showed that families were finding themselves under considerable financial pressure to meet higher costs, with some having to take “worrying measures” to meet them.

One in five parents said they would have to use savings, while 13 per cent of primary and 19 per cent of secondary school parents will either have to get a loan or need to use a credit card.

A further 9 per cent of primary and 18 per cent of secondary school parents said they would have to borrow money from friends and family to cover the back-to-school costs.

A separate survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions indicates that parents of secondary schoolchildren are likely to spend a total of €1,518 per child — up €27 on last year — and parents of primary schoolchildren spending €1,195 — up €9 on last year.

In response to questions on what additional measures are being taken to reduce back to school costs, a spokesman for the Department of Education said students availing of the school transport scheme would not be charged fees for the academic year 2022-2023. He said this was a temporary measure for the current year only.

In addition, he said the Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill, when enacted, would improve how schools engage with students and their parents by requiring each school to consult students and their parents on individual school plans, policies and activities, including school costs.

“This will help ensure that the various views of students and parents will be heard and responded to by schools,” the spokesman said.

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