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Emergency social welfare payments skyrocket to 75,000 claims so far this year

It represents a 63% increase on the number of applications received for the same period last year.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

A TOTAL OF 75,000 applications for emergency social welfare payments have been received by the Department of Social Protection so far this year. 

This is a 63% in awarded applications received for the same period last year. 

The overall expenditure on the additional needs payment for the period from January to end of October 2022 amounted to €46 million, according to Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys. 

The minister said it is important to note that some of this increase can be attributed to the response to support families arriving from Ukraine.

The additional needs payment is a payment available to any person who cannot pay an expense from their weekly income.

A person can receive the payment even if they are not getting a social welfare payment and it is also available to a person who is working or on a low income. Those on social welfare can also avail of the payment. 

The minister told the Dáil yesterday that in recent weeks there has been a fall off in the number of people applying for the additional needs payment.

Humphreys said she believes the reduction is due to the lump sum social welfare payments and energy credits people have received which is helping reduce the financial pressure some people are under. 

There have been criticisms over the length of time someone must wait before a decision is made on their claim. 

Sinn Féin’s social protection spokesperson Claire Kerrane states that the majority of applicants are waiting four weeks for their claims to be finalised.

Once-off payments 

The Department of Social Protection told The Journal that the payment is intended for essential, once-off, exceptional expenditure, which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income.

Where it is clear that a client has an immediate need, every effort is made to ensure that the customer in question receives a payment on the same day, said a spokesperson. 

The minister told the Dail yesterday that where there is a clear and urgent need for the payment, community social welfare officers are working to get the payment to the person “as quickly as possible”. Humphreys claimed that where there are delays, it is usually due to additional documentation or information relating to the claim being required. 

The minister said her department has taken a number of steps to streamline the process for those applying for additional needs payment, stating that she understands that many people who have had to apply for the additional money over the last year might never have had to deal with a community welfare officer in the past. 

A helpline has been set up to assist people, said Humphreys, who added that her department is doing everything it can to expedite claims. 

There is a full-time community welfare officer presence in all 50 Intreo offices nationwide from 9 to 5, from Monday to Friday, she said.

These officers remain available to attend clinics, can talk to people over the phone and  when needed, they can also arrange a house visit by appointment.  

“We are doing everything we can to facilitate and help people,” she said.

The department is recruiting 74 additional staff for the Community Welfare Service and are expected to be in place for the first quarter of next year.

From this month, 30 social welfare inspectors have also been redeployed to community welfare services (CWS). 

Wait times ‘alarming’ 

However, Kerrane said the idea of someone in an emergency situation waiting a month for a decision on a payment is “alarming”.

While the majority of cases are finalised within a four week period, Kerrane said she has heard of some cases where people are waiting 10-12 weeks.

“The application is going to be put online, a request I made to the Minister earlier this year, this will be in place from the first quarter of next year. I welcome that. It will offer an option to some people who would prefer to apply for this online. I hope it will also speed up the process.

“All of the additional resources going into Community Welfare Services are welcome but this could and should have been done much sooner. The increased demand for this Scheme was well known.

“I also remain concerned at the loss of Community Welfare Officers in communities and the removal of the walk-in service to access emergency support,” she said. 

This point was made by Labour’s Duncan Smith and Independent TD Marian Harkin who argued that these officers must remain and be returned to the community officers and be allowed to use their discretion when making decisions.

Smith told RTE’s Late Debate programme that he has heard of people having their emergency requests turned down as they don’t necessarily meet all criteria. 

Under the scheme, an additional needs payment is made to people who need help with fuel, utility bills, repairs to or replacement of household appliances, clothing, child related items such as prams, and assistance with funerals and travel.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Louise O’Reilly has said that the number of people struggling to make ends meet is clear evidence of the Government’s failure to help those most in need.

Citing the Central Statistics Office (CSO) ‘Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC)’ , she said it is “incredibly worrying” that almost half the population, 49.3% now have difficulty making ends meet, up over 7% on last year.

“Halfway through the term of this government the CSO data captures what Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party have done for ordinary people – very, very little,” she said. 

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