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'It's a nightmare': Parents still experiencing delays of up to eight weeks for birth registrations

The delays are blocking parents from accessing State welfare payments.

Image: Shutterstock

PARENTS ARE STILL facing delays of up to two months to register their children’s births, blocking them from accessing welfare payments and services such as free GP care for their babies.

As previously reported by The Journal, the HSE has said the cyber-attack in mid-May caused the significant delays and while waiting times have been reduced, there have been repeated calls for additional resources to be deployed to ensure parents get the supports they need. 

A parent can only apply for the monthly €140 child benefit payment when they have a birth certificate for their baby – something they can only apply for after the birth is registered.

The delays are also preventing parents from applying for the free GP card for their babies or claiming back parental leave as they have no official proof from the State that their babies were born.

Ryan Clarke’s first child, Ollie, was born on 14 September. Five days later he logged onto the Civil Registration website to find out how to register the birth.

“It said on the website that it could be done by email up until 30 September because of Covid and the offices being closed,” he said.

“There was an automated email that said it would take a minimum of three weeks so I gave it the three weeks and then rang to check on it.

“The man I spoke to basically said there was no point doing it by email so he gave me a number to ring. That number went to an answering machine every time.”

He said there are only a limited number of appointments per week and, from hearing the experiences of other parents, it seems that they are booked up within minutes at the start of every week.

Clarke said his partner is receiving State maternity benefit and he is working so they can manage financially for now without child benefit.

“I feel for anyone who is struggling, maybe after losing their job because of Covid, or they are on a lower income,” he said. “I can’t imagine how difficult it must be.”

He is concerned that they are unable to apply for Ollie’s free GP care card and he said he was planning to get a letter from their doctor at Ollie’s next check-up confirming the baby’s existence so he could send in his paternity leave forms.

“There’s a lot of stress involved when you have a newborn and then there’s all of this on top of it,” Clarke said. “When we can apply for children’s allowance I’ll probably have to fight to get that backdated as well.

If you’re a single mother or father, you can only imagine… I finished a night shift at 8am this morning and haven’t been to bed. I’m out walking with the baby and the last thing you want to do after a 12 hour night shift is sit waiting on the phone. It’s an absolute nightmare.

He eventually managed to get an appointment in the Dublin office for 28 November. 

“It’s a long time away but it’s the soonest they could get for me,” he said. “I’m at my wits end at this stage with it. We’ve just bought here in Wicklow and there are loads of houses going up all over the place but they don’t have the facilities to support people.”

Karen Kiernan, CEO of One Family, told The Journal that the organisation has continued to receive requests for help in relation to the issue, with one email recently coming from a mother who was told it would be more than a month before the registration would be complete.

“She was quite desperate, she has maternity benefit but she has nothing else so she was trying to figure out whether she has any other entitlements because she can’t live on what she has,” Kiernan said. 

She said the situation is made worse by the lack of staffing of phones at civil registration offices, with parents reporting calling multiple times without being able to speak to anyone or having their call go straight to voicemail.

“If you have a new baby, and maybe you’ve got a phone with phone credit, it’s just a nightmare to try to get through to someone on the phone.

“In the short-term they should be prioritising people who are very vulnerable and financially reliant on State income, particularly people who rely on a housing payment, you could really have someone in danger there.”

She suggested the State should allow organisations like One Family to assist in identifying people who need to be prioritised. 

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, who has raised the issue a number of times with the Minister for Social Protection, told The Journal she has heard of examples in which parents had to wait up to 13 weeks for the process to be completed. 

“You have to ring them to make an appointment, but no one can get staff on the phone,” she said.

In one response to Whitmore, the minister had said she was assured that walk-in services were available, but they are not available in every county.

“One person in Wicklow had to travel to Navan because it was the closest one,” Whitmore said.

“And the last thing a new mother wants to be doing is driving around the country trying to access this, they should be looking after themselves and their baby. The State should make this simpler for them.”

Whitmore said she understands resources are tight in offices but the government should ensure additional resources are made available until the backlog is worked through. She said the HSE also needs to ensure there are more walk-in services so that particularly vulnerable families can be prioritised. 

The Journal asked each HSE Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) for an update on their waiting times. Some had no backlog at all, but others were still reporting significant delays.

HSE Community Healthcare East which serves Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow currently has an average wait time of up to eight weeks across the region.

The CHO said it lost all access to its operating system as a result of the HSE cyber-attack from mid-May through to the end of July. 

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“Staff of this service have been working overtime, and additional staff are in the process of being recruited, to help address the impact on civil registration services resulting from the cyber attack,” a spokesperson said.

They said the average waiting time had been reduced from its peak of 16 weeks in July.

However the eight-week average wait time has not improved in the four weeks since The Journal last checked with this CHO.

A walk-in service is being provided at the Dublin office on Lombard Street East, but for Kildare and Wicklow services are by appointment only unless there is “an emergency requirement”.

They did not give details of how an emergency requirement could be communicated to the office. 

The Mid-West CHO, which covers Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary said the current average wait time is six weeks. 

“As of 1 October emergency (pandemic) legislation no longer applies and the process for registering a Birth has reverted to pre-Covid whereby the parent(s) will require attending a Civil Registration Office to register the birth of their child,” a spokesperson said.

They said some offices in the Mid-West CHO area offer a walk-in service while others are by appointment.

The earliest born child where parents have sought to register the birth and for which information is awaited was born five weeks ago.

Cork Kerry Community Healthcare has a wait time of between two and three weeks for birth registrations, down from up to 12 weeks in the aftermath of the cyber attack.

“During the recent HSE cyber-attack applicants waited between 10-12 weeks as a limited number of applications were submitted electronically and subsequently some were lost during the cyber-attack -  the majority were processed in six to eight weeks,” a spokesperson said. 

The civil registration service offices in Cork (Adelaide Street) and Killarney operate walk-in facilities which are available to the public at specific times.

Community Healthcare West, which covers Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, said there are no significant delays and there is a walk-in centre available in the CHO area. 

The CHO 1 area, serving Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim also confirmed it has no backlog.

Are you impacted by a significant delay in birth registrations? Get in touch with your story by emailing michelle@thejournal.ie.

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