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Replacing child benefit with school attendance payment 'would save €100m'

TD Denis Naughten has said the payment of €130 would remain intact but would be based on school attendance under his proposal which he said could also help reduce truancy.

Image: Child benefit photo via Shutterstock

A TD HAS claimed that introducing a school attendance payment in place of child benefit would save the State between €100 million and €135 million every year.

Denis Naughten has said that abolishing child benefit for school age children and replacing it with a school attendance payment of the same amount – €130 – would achieve savings of between €100 million and €135 million per year.

He claims that over €13 million would be saved by removing the need to pay child benefit to parents who may work in Ireland but whose child or children are in education in other European countries.

“The Irish taxpayer is paying for childcare which is already subvented in other EU countries. We have used child benefit here to provide a subvention for childcare,” he said.

However the Department of Social Protection said that such a proposal would face difficulties at an EU level and said the European Commission indicated it could discriminate against migrant workers.

The Roscommon-based TD said the new payment method would also cut down on fraud and over-claims saving anything between €10.5 million and €36 million a year.

He also factors in the control savings the Department of Social Protection already makes with annual savings of between €75-85 million in recent years.

In addition to this between €4-5 million is sought in over-payments annually with the Department increasingly successfully in reclaiming over-payments having recovered €4 million of €4.8 million that was sought in 2011.

Truancy

Naughten said that tying the payment to school attendance would also help to address truancy issues and cut down on bureaucracy as it could involve the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) which is usually informed if a child has missed 20 days or more of school.

He said: “The school attendance payment would be an added incentive for some parents to ensure that their child has a full attendance at school.

“Such a payment would be the most effective way to address the problem of school drop-outs, without incurring a vast administration cost as the reporting structure [the NEWB] is already in place.”

The Department of Social Protection said Naughten’s proposals would represent a “considerable departure from the existing policy and would have to be justified in terms of better outcomes”.

The Department also said it implementing the proposal would “entail administrative and logistical challenges” and said a more detailed proposal would be needed in order for the measure to be properly copsted.

Naughten told TheJournal.ie that the Department of Social Protection had dismissed his proposal on the grounds that it would take the administration of the payment out of its control and instead give it to the Department of Education.

“I don’t think that that’s right, there are substantial savings to be made by a whole of government approach,” he said adding that he would continue to put the idea to the Minister Joan Burton.

“It does help to deal with truancy issue because it does give parents an incentive to ensure their son or daughter are going to school,” he insisted.

Earlier this year, a long-awaited report by the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare recommended a two-tier system of child benefit which would involve families being mean-tested or being below a certain level of income to qualify for full payment.

The Department added that it has made no decisions on the core recommendations of the report “given the complexities of the issues involved”.

Minister: No one wants to cut child benefit, but it can’t be ruled out

Read: ‘No discussion’ on cutting Child Benefit in Budget 2014

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Hugh O'Connell

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