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'Desperate' parents paying double to get birth certs via private companies amid registration delays

Private companies are capitalising on long delays in the birth registration system.

File photo of a baby
File photo of a baby
Image: Shutterstock/Iren_Geo

PARENTS ARE PAYING private companies more than twice the going rate to get birth certificates for their children due to huge delays in registering their births in Dublin and nearby counties.

As previously reported by The Journal, the Eastern Registration Area of the Civil Registration Service – which serves Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow – lost all access to all of its operating systems from mid-May to the end of July as a result of the cyber attack on the HSE.

The ongoing effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on services is also having an impact.

As a result, some parents are forced to wait two to three months before they can register the birth of their child.

This is having a knock-on effect on them being issued with birth certs and applying for social welfare benefits and certain GP services.  In some cases, applications for housing supports get delayed because the new baby in the family does not have a PPS number.  

The situation has resulted in some parents paying over twice the standard rate for a birth certificate.

Labour Senator Marie Sherlock has called on the HSE and Department of Social Protection to address the issue. She said the fact that private companies are capitalising on the HSE’s “dereliction of duty” is unacceptable.

“Perhaps most unnerving for me was that families told me they were able to purchase birth certificates from third parties. We conducted an experiment a month ago where, with the permission of a family, I was able to pay online through an external company for a birth cert, the mother ordered through the civil registration office. I paid €46 and she paid €21.50. I got my order within six days and the mother is still waiting.”

Speaking to The Journal, Sherlock said a number of companies such as this one are going to “a less busy civil registration office outside Dublin”, buying birth certs and then selling them on at a higher rate.

“If a private company is able to dream this up, then why is the HSE not capable of this?,” Sherlock asked.

While the Senator received the cert she paid for, others who have ordered the document via a different third party website have been left out of pocket.

One mother paid €50 on a private company’s website to get a birth certificate for her daughter as she needed to apply for her passport. The woman never heard back from the company and its website is no longer active.

“I was desperate, I didn’t know that you had to apply for a birth cert because I didn’t have to for my older children. I was aware of the delays in getting a new passport and was up against the clock and willing to try anything.”

After the woman paid the €50 fee she “never heard anything back from them”.

“In the end I was told by a friend that if you put €22 in an envelope and send it to the registration office they will send it out in a few days, and that is how I got it. This is no way to run a registration system,” the woman said.

Sherlock said some parents in Dublin and surrounding counties have been forced to wait up to 12 weeks to register their child.

A child born in Cork today will have their birth registered in two to three days. If that same child was born in Dublin, waiting for an appointment for registration is taking weeks and in some cases, months. I know of a child born four weeks ago and his parents could only get an appointment in Dublin on 16 December.

“There has been a failure on the part of the HSE and the Department of Health to address the enormous backlog that currently exists in Dublin.

“For the Dublin births, death and marriages office alone, there is a backlog of 500-600 cases for applications made online for the registration of a birth dating from prior to the ending of the online registration in September.”

Sherlock said the delay is “leaving many families in hugely precarious positions financially”.

“It means that families cannot access child benefit, they cannot access GP card and we know of some families who have had to pay a GP when their infant was sick. It means that in some cases, applications for housing supports get delayed because the new baby in the family does not have a PPS number.  

“This is putting a huge strain on families at an already stressful time. If you are a low-income, single parent having to pay for everything yourself, or a family with good income and facing exorbitant rent as some many families, this wait matters.”

Impact of Covid-19 and cyber attack

When asked about the situation, a spokesperson for HSE Community Healthcare East said “a number of factors” are behind the backlog in registrations.

“There are a number of factors that have unfortunately come together to adversely affect civil registration services in the Eastern Registration Area leading to backlogs and increased processing times. These include service changes resulting from Covid-19 emergency legislation, staffing levels, Covid-19 infection control measures limiting office space available for staff and the cyber attack on the HSE in May 2021,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

We acknowledge that these issues are resulting in increased challenges for many people and we are working hard to find solutions to address them. Staff have been working overtime, and additional staff are in the process of being recruited, to help reduce processing times.

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“As a result, the average waiting time for birth registrations has been reduced from up to 16 weeks in July to currently an average of up to four weeks across the region.”

The spokesperson said that the work “to address and reduce certificate processing times, will continue until all outstanding applications to register life events received under the emergency legislation have been dealt with in full”.

It is expected that this backlog will be cleared by mid-December.

The spokesperson added that the HSE has no affiliation with or authority over “third party websites claiming to offer civil registration services”.

“We advise the public to issue all requests via HSE Civil Registration Offices or online via www.certificates.ie.”

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection (DSP) noted that responsibility for the registration of all births in the State “is a matter for the Health Service Executive”.  

“The Minister for Social Protection has no role in respect of the operations of the civil registration services,” they added.

“The General Register Office (GRO) operates under the aegis of the Department of Social Protection with a role limited to maintaining and managing the system of registration and developing policies and legislation relating to registration matters.

“Its role with respect to the HSE is to offer guidance and advice on registration matters, other than operational matters.”

The spokesperson said the DSP “is aware that the HSE have a significant backlog of birth and death registrations to be processed”, particularly in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow, which account for about 35% of all births annually.

The GRO has been “in regular contact with the HSE on this matter”, they added.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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