Education Minister could look to own Dept. for child benefit savings – Naughten

In Child Benefit Reform by Denis Naughten

School attendance payment could create €50m fund for pre-school extension

Abolishing child benefit for school age children and replacing it with a school attendance payment would lead to savings of up to €50m which could be used to fund a targeted extra pre-school year for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, claims Denis Naughten TD.

“The Education Minister has the tools at his disposal to establish such a payment which could be effectively rolled out while to still protecting the rate of payment to families who rely on it,” stated Denis Naughten.

“Introducing a school attendance payment would remove the need to pay €13.2m each year to children not resident in Ireland and would also have a significant impact on child benefit fraud and over claims, saving the taxpayer up to €36m per year. It would also significantly reduce the administration of the current Child Benefit scheme.

“I believe that if the payment was no longer a universal child benefit payment, then the payment to children outside the State could be ceased. In its place, child benefit would only be paid up to school going age, at which point it would be replaced by a new school attendance payment that is paid up to a child’s 18th birthday.”

The scheme proposed by Denis Naughten would be more than a fraud prevention measure; it would also help to address the issue of truancy within the school system, and cut down on bureaucracy.

“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 vast administration cost as the reporting structure is already in place.

“Presently within Minister Quinn’s own Department, a school is legally obliged to inform the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) if a child has missed 20 days or more in the school year or if it is concerned that a child is missing too much school without legitimate reason such as illness.”

Denis Naughten continued: “I believe that Minister Quinn should mandate the NEWB to send an e-mail to Social Welfare informing them of a child’s continued absence, thus reducing the administration costs within the Department of Social Protection, schools and businesses, which have far better things to be doing than filling out forms for child benefit payments.

“While I am aware that this would require a change in primary legislation, not only within the social welfare acts but also in the responsibilities of the NEWB, I believe measures to fund disadvantaged children without impacting on financially vulnerable families will be generally accepted by the public. I now hope that Minister Quinn will look seriously at the proposal.”