Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, has raised concerns about the drop in Supplementary Welfare Allowance/Exceptional Needs Payments paid out last year compared to the previous year and called for greater transparency in the figures.
The figures were released to Teachta Kerrane in response to a parliamentary question and reveal a significant drop in payments made.
Teachta Kerrane said:
“Figures released to me in response to a parliamentary question show a significant drop in the number of these awards paid out by Community Welfare Officers last year compared to 2019.
“The number of payments made under Exceptional Needs and Urgent Needs Payments is down in 2020 to under 68,000 payments from a total of over 92,000 payments in 2019.
“This is surprising given the impact of Covid-19. I am concerned it may point to an issue with access to Community Welfare Officers who are not as easily accessible because of Covid.
“This is especially concerning due to the lack of transparency about these figures. Due to how the Department collects information on this issue, we only see the amounts awarded where an application for assistance is granted. The Department states that they do not maintain records of the actual number of applications received and the outcome of those applications. Therefore, it is not possible to see whether fewer people are applying, or if fewer payments are being awarded.
“We know that the decision to award payments is at the discretion of the Community Welfare Officer and therefore, detail on the number of applications received and the outcome for each is important and should be recorded by the Department.
“While the Department’s website specifically lists help with heating and electricity costs under the Exceptional Needs Payment, they have not shown the number of applications made under the Exceptional Need Payment to cover these costs.
“I am calling on the Minister to ensure her Department collects and publishes data on this in a more detailed and transparent way. There should be a record of the total number of applications and the number which were refused.
“Minister Humphreys has placed great emphasis on these emergency welfare supports being available to those on the Payment Unemployment Payment, yet the Department’s reply show that only 6,676 Exceptional Needs Payments issued to those on the PUP between March and December 2020. This is out of a total of the 481,300 PUP recipients, as per the Department’s reply.
“Across the state, many workers and families are absolutely pushed to the pin of their collar financially as they struggle to deal with financial pressures brought about by this pandemic. They deserve to receive the support from the state that they are entitled to.
“The Minister must work to ensure that people who need supports receive them and do not face unnecessary barriers or obstacles in times of dire financial need.”