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Parents face child benefit lag due to long delays in birth registration

The delay, caused by the HSE cyber attack, has been reduced from 16 weeks

Image: Shutterstock/KieferPix

DELAYS OF ‘TWO or three months’ in registering births are being reported by parents in Ireland, leading to knock-on delays in accessing child benefit.

These delays are in turn meaning delays in registering newborns for free healthcare and passports, for example.

The delays are caused by the cyber attack on the HSE, which took place from mid-May to the end of July. HSE online systems had to be shut down as a result, and staff are still grappling with the impact. 

For example, the Eastern Registration Area of the Civil Registration Service, which serves Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow, lost all access to all of its operating systems as a result of the cyber attack. Initially this led to delays of 16 weeks for birth registrations for these counties, though this has since been reduced to eight. 

One Family, which provides support and resources to lone parents, told The Journal that its helpline has been receiving calls from concerned parents who have been waiting months for their child to be registered, and in turn haven’t been able to access other supports.

One Family’s CEO, Karen Kiernan, told The Journal that parents have been ringing its helpline saying they have been waiting two to three months for their child’s birth to be registered. 

She said as a result, parents were experiencing delays getting child benefit and other State supports.

Child benefit is a monthly payment of €140 to parents and guardians. It can be claimed once a child’s birth is registered. Once a child is registered, the parent/s can then apply for the birth certificate. 

“Some of the families we work with, they may need to apply immediately for social welfare payments as a one parent family,” she said. “They can’t apply for that without the birth certificate and PPS number [of the child].”

“It’s a really dire situation, particularly for someone with a newborn child,” said Kiernan of the delay. “We would work around perinatal health and mental health in particular. It is a very vulnerable time for many parents and if they are completely on their own with not a lot of family support, it’s another incredible stressor on top of that.”

“It could leave someone vulnerable in a desperate situation,” said Kiernan. 

People have told One Family they are experiencing issues applying for passports, and also around accessing housing support due to the long delays in getting births registered, she said. 

One Family is “trying to figure out is there any way we can help them”, she said. 

“Needing it for a passport is one thing and needing it to eat is another, or to apply for a housing payment,” she said. 

“The knock-on impact for parents who interact with the State around payment is really significant. It is one part of the State proving to another part of the State [that a child has been born].”

Delays in registrations

One Dublin couple, who are parents of a new baby, told The Journal it took 10 weeks to get him officially registered. They have applied since for his birth certificate and were told it would take up to 30 working days to receive. 

In order to receive it more quickly, it’s possible to get a postal order and write a letter to the relevant department. 

A letter was sent to the parents when the child was registered, which said:”Please note our system is currently dealing with very high demands for certificates due to cyber attack delays are unavoidable [sic]“.

It added of applying for the birth certificate: “Please expect delays due to high demand.”

The Civil Registration Service’s offices on Lombard St East in Dublin are currently closed due to Covid 19.

Another parent, Aoife, who lives in Dublin, had her child on 25 June and registered his birth on 3 July. “My sister had a boy two months before me, and let me know there was a delay of six weeks,” she said. When she hadn’t heard anything after eight weeks, she followed up again on her case and received an email back saying registrations were taking 10 weeks.

She emailed again and was told delays were eight weeks. She then rang the civil registrations office, but had some trouble getting through to them. When she did get through, she spoke to a “very helpful person” who gave her their direct email.

This led to the case being escalated and she had to resend her registration form and her and her husband’s IDs a number of times by email while their case was dealt with.

Her child was eventually registered and they received the birth certificate on Monday, but as she hasn’t received a PPS number she hasn’t been able to register him for his under-6s medical cover. That meant she had to pay to attend the doctor with him this week, though the surgery refunded her.

“Not having the [PPS number] means I can’t get children’s allowance [child benefit]. We are lucky to be in a financial situation where it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “However, my husband used three weeks of parental leave and hasn’t been able to get that benefit back.”

“I can imagine if you had any financial issues it would be an absolute disaster,” she said.

Rachael Fagan Birmingham, who lives in Limerick, had her second child on 5 August. She said that when she had her first child two years ago, they were able to have her registered and received her PPS number within 10 days of her birth. 

This time, the process was undertaken online. “I ordered the birth certificate myself and thought they had lots of time,” she said. But then she was contacted by a person who told her that her child wasn’t registered on the system, so they couldn’t print the birth certificate.

Fagan Birmingham rang her local registration office in Limerick and was told that the hospital she had her daughter in had not sent over the birth details. This was six weeks after her child was born.

“I was a bit miffed that this was the reason,” said Fagan Birmingham. “Thankfully that woman in Limerick contacted the hospital and got the details that day and was able to print the certificate. However my name was spelled wrong so I had to send that back and get another one.”

She was told the issue with her birth details not being passed on to the civil registrations office was “a staffing issue”.

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She told The Journal: “If I hadn’t contacted them I had no idea how much longer before they would have sent over the birth details.”

She received her child’s PPS number and child benefit letter this week, eight weeks after the child was born. 

“Thankfully it’s not too much of an issue for us having a delay in child benefit – for us the delay now is in getting her passport,” said Fagan Birmingham, who will also be applying for a US passport for her child.

She said that she is concerned about how this situation might be affecting migrant or vulnerable parents in particular.

If you were in a situation where you needed to leave in an an emergency or were relying on social welfare payments, or child benefit was part of your income, that’s two months that you’ve had nothing [if the same thing happened to you as to me]. It could have been even longer if I hadn’t contacted them.

She added she would have further concerns for parents who don’t speak English or don’t know how the civil registration or social welfare systems work in Ireland. 

“They need to have processes in place,” she said of the HSE. She and her family are now worried about possible delays getting her child a passport. “It’s a continuation of the frustrations I’ve had this year with the HSE; they don’t seem to take into account the migrant point of view,” she said. 

Asked about the current delays, a spokesperson for the East of the country said:

“The Eastern Registration Area of the Civil Registration Service (serving Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow) lost all access to all its operating systems as a result of the HSE cyber attack from mid-May through to the end of July 2021. Civil Registration staff have been working throughout these challenging times to get through the resulting backlog. The average waiting time for birth registrations has been reduced from up to 16 weeks to now currently an average of up to 8 weeks.

“The online booking system for marriage of notice appointments used by the Eastern Registration Area was also severely impacted by the cyber attack and has only very recently been restored. In the meantime, parties seeking to serve notice of their intent to marry in this state were accommodated by staff using back-up systems, where possible.”

“As access to systems is restored, Civil Registration staff continue to make every effort to address the impact on services and reduce waiting times that have resulted from the cyber attack.” 

Karen Kiernan of One Family said that if people are in very serious situations, One Family can, for example, direct them to a volunteer organisation like St Vincent de Paul to “try keep them going during this period”, as well as “listening and supporting them”.

Kiernan said that usually if you are in an emergency situation or waiting on social welfare payment you can go to your local community welfare officer and ask for supplementary welfare, which is a temporary week-by-week payment.

However, Kiernan said she believes this is not possible in the case of birth registration delays.

Kiernan said the HSE should prioritise certain people, such as people who are more vulnerable and need immediate access to their social welfare supports. She also questioned if the HSE could allocate more staff to work in the relevant department to help process registrations.

The HSE has been contacted for a statement regarding birth registrations across the rest of Ireland.

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