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Families told to wait up to 10 months for welfare payment

A father-of-three from Carlow shares his story with TheJournal.ie.

File photo
File photo

FATHER-OF-THREE Stephen Kinsella spent two years out of work until he finally secured a job (on a three-month rolling contract) at a local factory in May 2012.

It was happy news, especially as his wife Mary was expecting their fourth child. However, the Carlow resident would still have money worries, despite the weekly income. As a result, he discovered that he is entitled to the Family Income Supplement and applied for the payment in June this year.

At the time of application he was told it would take up to 20 weeks for a decision to be reached.

This week, the Department of Social Protection said it would be March 2013 before the application is processed.

“I was hoping to have this extra financial aid in place by now so instead of being rewarded for working, my family and I are being punished,” he told TheJournal.ie. “I imagine lots of other families or single parents are in the same boat.”

They are.

The department confirmed that at the end of last month there were 15,131 applications awaiting decisions. This included 7,267 new FIS applications and 7,864 renewals.

The delay has been caused by the continued strong claim intake, according to a spokesperson.

A programme to try and eliminate the backlog has been devised, including the outsourcing of work to a Letterkenny office. It will also see the newest applications processed first.

A statement from the department outlined the procedure, which began on 5 November:

The first steps taken to permanently eliminate future backlogs in FIS are to put in place sufficient capacity and suitable structures and processes to deal with the weekly intake of work. The programme sees the normal weekly new claim and renewal intake processed without delay while the backlog is ring-fenced and a focused team assigned to this work with a clear plan for its elimination.

“A separate team including additional temporary resources has been identified and is already assigned and working on the backlog of claims. The Department is fully focussed on the elimination of the backlog of claims in the shortest possible timeframe, concentrating in the first instance on those claims which were previously in payment but where payment has expired.”

It is expected that the backlog will be fully eliminated by April 2013. Claims which are eventually approved will be backdated to the date of the application or the date of expiry of the previous claim. The department has issued assurances that all arrears due will be paid.

Families with low incomes are eligible for FIS if there are dependent children living in the household. The payment varies depending on salary and family size.

‘Not good enough’

TD for Roscommon and South Leitrim Denis Naughten says the long waiting time being forced on low-income working families is “not good enough”.

“In the last 10 days I have been inundated with complaints from struggling families throughout the country who are relying on the approval of their social welfare top-up payment to meet Christmas bills,” he said.

He cited another family who had applied on 15 July for the payment. They will also have to wait until April 2013, he told TheJournal.ie.

Naughten believes this could force families into borrowing money they cannot afford.

“The Family Income Supplement is effectively a top up payment designed to assist families in getting off the dole by taking up low income work…[the delay] will have an enormous impact on the families involved…it also represents a significant failing on the part of the government when looked at in terms of their policies towards low and middle income households.

On one hand the Government say they are encouraging those on the dole to find work, but when they do, they are faced with this bureaucratic barrier of the Government’s own making.

“The fact of the matter is these delays are leaving vulnerable working families under increasing financial pressure and facing an uncertain future. The families affected are not asking for special treatment or extra protection, instead they have shown huge dedication by enter the workforce at this time only to be let down by the Departmental bureaucracy.”

Kinsella echoed this sentiment. “What I find hard to believe is a man in my situation is better off on the dole but I am happy to work. Another ironic thing is if my contract is not renewed in the new year, I may be unemployed again when this application gets sorted.”

Deputy Naughten also passed on details of another father affected by the delays. Here is his letter in full:

I am writing to you in desperation. I am a 54-year-old public servant with a wife and six children. As the sole earner in my household I have a weekly income of €538. As such, I am entitled to claim FIS to top up my income. I received my last FIS payment on 20 September: eight weeks ago. It is currently under annual review.

Whilst waiting for a decision I have received some support from the Community Welfare Officer but still am short €150 a week.

As it was, at the end of each month, I literally had nothing left – but at least I could manage. Last week, I exceeded my overdraft limit with my bank by €48. Little did I realise that €48 was the price of my independence and dignity. At 54 years of age I have had to turn to a relative for €48 to put my account back under its limit and to a friend for €10 to put diesel in my car so I can get home from work this evening.

I drive 32 miles to work and will have to ask someone else to loan me diesel money to come to work tomorrow and Wednesday which at least is pay day, but as I have already overdrawn half of my fortnightly wages I do not know how I can keep going into the future.

I have just contacted the Department of Social Protection’s FIS section and been informed that the backlog in processing renewal claims means that my claim will not be dealt with before the end of December! This situation occurs every year in relation to FIS but this year’s delay is the longest yet. In the past I have been able to manage and simply go without but never to the point where I could not put fuel in my car and go to work.

I have never had to ask anyone for help in my life, and whilst I appreciate that the waiting list is the same for everyone, €48 it seems is the cost of my pride and I am therefore asking you, is there anything you can do to help me in this matter?

FIS can be claimed if weekly income is less than €506 per week for families with one child. The limit increases for each extra child.

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