One Family hears directly from people parenting alone of their experiences with the Department of Social Protection local social welfare/INTREO offices, via our askonefamily helpline, online surveys, social media platforms, and direct client interactions. Last month we asked lone parents who are being affected by the current reform of the One Parent Family Payment (OFP) to tell us about their experiences while dealing with Department staff regarding the OFP and/or their transition to other welfare payments. As related by parents to One Family, here are examples received which we compiled and sent to the Department on 26 March 2015. Note: Content below updated at 19.05.2015 to include more examples received from parents.
One Family holds weekly live Facebook Q&As specifically on the topic of changes to the One-Parent Family Payment. These are facilitated by our Information Manager to provide an additional platform for those parenting alone to receive accurate answers to their questions.
Comments received include:
- “I had the one parent family allowance taken off me last year when my daughter turned 7. As a result I couldn’t keep up the repayments on my family home, after paying a mortgage on it for 14 years. In 6 weeks time I am homeless with a child… And I’m sure there’s lots of people in the same situation.”
- “In Kerry at a recent activation they said that people moving from opfp to jst or jsa no longer have a right to further education or to choose as they did while on opfp. Now a case officer will have to decide if it’s ok and will lead to work in their opinion. We were told it’s up to our case officer to decide for us and ‘little computer courses’ were mentioned as ‘Sure you need to be able to turn on a computer for a job on a till in Tesco or to input washing machines being unloaded off a truck’… It was patronising in the extreme I felt.”
- “I’m still a lone parent but no longer defined as one when my child is 7. A new payment now defines me differently according to the government and so they see fit to reduce my income. Can’t comprehend that …”
- “I went to ask about the Back to Work Family Dividend and the DSP hadn’t a clue about it! People coming off OPFP are entitled to it, but the DSP don’t know about this extra money to make up the loss. I am in Waterford.”
- “My sister’s one parent family payment ended last July when her youngest turned 16. She has been on Jobseeker’s benefit since then i.e. 9 months. Having received a job offer she has been trying to see whether she will be entitled to the Back to Work Family Dividend. The eligibility requirements are that she is 12 months on Job Seeker’s (she isn’t) or receiving One Parent Family payment (which she isn’t). The published material doesn’t say whether she can combine the period spent on the two payments. She rang Citizen’s Advice today who didn’t know either.”
- “I went yesterday to King’s Inn Street for an information meeting. I came away with no new information. I asked about childcare. He said I could get CETS place. I informed HIM that that was only offered to people on a Fetac course, not third level. Very uninformative meeting.”
- Bray SWLO told a recipient that she is “OK on the OFP until her son turns 16”. The staff member wanted to check when she called the first time and phoned her back with this information.
- “Well, I’ve been called in to social welfare three times since being transferred on to this transition payment last October. I’m doing my best but they seem to think I should be looking for a CE scheme. What do I do with my 11 yr old then? These people really are not in touch with reality”
- “My experience at the Information Session was negative, couldn’t give me the answers I was looking for, said they would ring me back that evening, that was Tuesday, still haven’t heard anything!! “(On Friday)
- “I asked to have my payment paid directly to my bank to pay bills, the social welfare officer laughed at me… Who did I think I was????
- “I attended one of these information sessions and am still unsure about some issues e.g. the BTEA. The only post grad courses you can do are the H Dip or a Masters in education. There was no printed information available at the seminar I attended. Just two people reading off a PowerPoint presentation. Citizens Information is a better option.”
- “I heard nothing till I “friended” your page, so thank you. When I Google my local office in Rathdowney, Co Laois, I get Portlaoise. When you ring Portlaoise, you get the HSE. They can’t even advertise the right phone numbers, never mind hold information evenings!!!”
- “Mine [DSP information session] was Fri in Waterford, I thought was very helpful and had application form on the ready to cover what u needed. The only thing was [the lack of available] childcare …”
- “They would want to inform their patronising, condescending employees running the “seminars” of some facts. Had mine today [in West Cork] and they were trying to refuse to answer every question, in fact were appearing angry when I asked and made out I was wasting people’s time. They denied people currently working part time will be down money when they lose OPFP blatantly and would not answer properly any queries. I specifically asked about the SUSI grant and they said we would not be entitled, and it would be a requirement to switch to BTEA if in fulltime education.”
- “I was moved from OFP last October when my daughter turned 7. I also have a 12 year old. I got a letter a couple of weeks before the change was due and had to go into my local office in Sandyford. The staff were very poorly informed and also condescending. I am down €80 per week and really struggling now.” [This parent further explained that she is now not on JST or any other payment other than FIS and is working part-time, 21.5 hours per week.]
- Two separate reports of people parenting alone who asked in their local offices when the changes to OFP would come into effect for them and were told by staff in their local offices – Maynooth and Ballyfermot – that they “did not know”.
- “I’m a masters student – I will lose all because I’m not available for work – therefore I have 2 choices 1) give up my masters – therefore decreasing my ability to attain financial independence (which is why I am doing it in the first place) or 2) work in the evening- which means not only will I have to pay out of hours childcare but in order to complete my masters – I’ll be away from my son for 60 hours at least a week. This is just so I can make the same amount of money as the One – Parent Allowance. In short I’m trapped! Trapped in a system that wants me to escape it (at least that’s what they say) but yet doesn’t provide the resources for me to become financially independent.”
- “I not entitled to JST as my child is over 13, and off OFP in June. Am trying to find out if I can get a SUSI maintenance grant and fees?? The Intreo don’t seem to be of any help, I’m not getting any answers regarding entitlements. I would have thought BTEA but they still can’t say if I am or not.”
- “I was in my social welfare office today to transfer to job seekers. The receptionist was quite churlish and told me not to take that attitude with him. I had politely asked a question regarding the best payment for me. There is no choice – I was told it is job seekers. There were also not information seminars, or transition meetings at our local office. This is just disgraceful, I had to actually tell the welfare officer that if I did not get a payment this week, I would not be able to feed my child.”
- “I’ve had a bad experience recently with Intreo. They have different ‘facts’ from office to office, town to town. it is a disgrace. The whole thing is a shambles.”
EMAIL AND PHONE
a. Local Office | Information Session
Joan (not her real name): “Many lone parents are appalled by the lack of information provided by the Dept of Social Protection at an ‘information seminar’ held yesterday in Westport Leisure Centre at 2pm. This meeting was of great importance to many of us and had detrimental effects regarding our finances and families futures. The lack of representation was quite shocking; the seminar was inadequately delivered by office staff (from Westport dole office) that were clearly out of their depths. Many attendees of the meetings had questions and ALL were left unanswered, end result being that nobody left the meeting feeling informed about the worrying changes that are soon to be made.
Suggestions for cookery courses were made by staff and when quizzed about childcare the response was ‘there aren’t many places available’. The theme of the seminar appeared to be ‘upskilling’ and for those in full time third level education – in the process of upskilling – the mere suggestion of a cookery course was insulting to say the least.
For those in employment the change from OPFP to FIS is costly as they will be penalised by 30 euro per week. On the One Parent Family Payment they are entitled to earn up to 90 euro per week. However of the FIS scheme workers are only allowed to earn 60 euro. For those currently in full time education who rely on their SUSI grant to support them through their studies, will no longer be eligible and will be forced to claim Back to Education allowance. BEA is the equivalent to Job Seekers Allowance. The government are implying that to raise a child is no extra cost compared with a single person responsible for themselves. The meeting was cleverly staged at 2pm so that by the time question and answer time arrived conveniently many had to leave to collect children from school.
I am writing to you as I am currently trying to generate awareness around this obvious injustice. I am trying to get as many names as possible to sign a letter to Joan Burton Minister for Social Protection suggesting a reform. We demand another meeting with relevant representation from Dept of Social Protection. This is a serious issue for the countless concerned which needs to be addressed not dismissed.”
b. Local Office | Individual Session
Carol (not her real name): “I had my meeting today with SW re. lone parent payment. I was told that 25th June would be my last payment. My child is 14. As I work only 14 hours I am not entitled to FIS and as my hours are worked over 4 days I am not entitled to Job Seekers Allowance. I will lose €110 a week.
When the SW woman realised I was going to lose the whole payment she was very sympathetic. She said that these decisions were made high up and that the worst hit were those who were working, and those like me who were entitled to no payment once lone parent payment was stopped. Once again, she said, workers were being hit the worst. She suggested I go to one of the lone parent organisations and march against cuts! I was surprised to say the least, I suppose the workers at the SW offices are just as shocked at these cuts as we are. Keep up the good work. I hope to go and see my Labour TD next week.”
ii. Jane (not her real name) called last week very worried about her first meeting with her case officer after being transitioned onto JST. Her daughter is 7 and she was on OFP for 18 months prior to this. She called today to say it went very well. The case officer was very helpful and showed her a lot of different options in terms of further education or training and didn’t try to force her to take one over the other. She explained an e-learning course suited her best as she could study while her daughter was in school and he was supportive of this and seemed to understand. He also gave her additional information about her entitlements if she took up other courses e.g. travel allowances and gave her some websites that she could look up also to explore her options. Overall , she said he was very helpful and she felt it was a positive experience. She was relieved that she had felt listened to and her own choices had been respected. She was informed that she would be called in approximately every three months to review how she was getting on. Her local office is Gorey, Co. Wexford.
c. Local Office | Advice re Springboard
Maria (not her real name): “Before I went on a CE Scheme, I was on the One Parent Family Payment. I have a daughter aged 8. And for me, it’s hard to get a full-time job because of the expense of the Crèche.
My plan was to go back to education and re-skill my education. I can’t do full-time course, because, when you are on Jobseekers you can’t do it. I found a Springboard course, which is going to start from September. This is a part-time course funded by Department of Social Protection. So I put my name on the list, and a lady from the Springboard told me to contact my local Social Welfare Office to ask them if I am entitled to do this course.
I rang the Welfare Office in Rathgar and had a chat with one of the officers and explained my situation and my plans about changing my career. He told me, what I have to do is to go back to them and make an appointment in summer time.
Because I was on the CE Scheme and got experience, and also I have a Degree and couple of Certs, he said it might be a problem for me to get a course. As for them, I am an educated person. They prefer to do courses for people who don’t have any certification.
So I might not be eligible for the college course. Which is absolute nonsense. And if I do get a course all I’ll receive is a Jobseeker Allowance. So I am kind of in between sitting at home and doing nothing (which is worst) or going back to college (if the officer says yes) and survive and progress. And the officer in my local welfare will make that decision, if I can do the course.”
d. Parents in Full-time Degree | Information Session & SUSI
Lisa (not her real name): Lisa is in first year of a Sociology Degree. She has an 8 year old daughter and is being moved from OPF this year. She contacted SUSI to enquire about the future of the SUSI maintenance grant which she currently receives. SUSI staff could not tell her if she will continue to be eligible as they informed her that they do not know if JST is to be ‘treated as a payment or as a benefit’. This lack of clarification is causing her extreme stress and she is angry and frightened at the thought of having to give up her Degree.
Lisa (update received at 26.03.15): “With regard to my own situation, I have been told I will remain on OPF until the completion of my degree course 2017/8. This means that I can continue to work part-time self-employed with no changes there. This will also mean I will continue to qualify for the maintenance grant and fees payment from SUSI which is absolutely wonderful news. I will also continue to qualify for medical cards for both myself and my daughter (not that I allow us the chance of getting sick) and the other associated allowances such as fuel allowance and Back to School Clothing and Footwear allowance. As you can appreciate that is an enormous weight off my mind as my studies are no longer in jeopardy.”
Last week the Department clarified that current and future recipients of JST would continue to be eligible for both SUSI fees and maintenance grants. Today Lisa let us know that even though she was scheduled to be moved to JST this year as her daughter is 8, she has now been told that she will remain on OFP until she has completed her degree (despite being initially told that she would move to JST and lose her SUSI maintenance grant). Clarification is urgently needed across the board on what rules are being applied for those in, or who will be in, full-time degree and/or masters programmes.
Nadia (not her real name): Nadia is in the third year of her Degree. She returned to education to upskill. She attended her local information session last week, and particularly wanted to find out if her SUSI maintenance grant and education could be affected. None of the local officers were able to tell her and as the session started at 2pm, she and most other parents had to leave to collect their children from primary school so could not stay on to try to get more information. She is now fearful that she will not be able to return to complete her Degree after summer and feeling very pressurised.
e. Parents in Post-Graduate Degree | Information & Back to Education Allowance
Mary (not her real name): “There is still no provision for mature students doing an M.A. If your child is sixteen and you transfer to Jobseekers you lose entitlement to the special rate and therefore cannot do a Masters. BTEA only covers a H. Dip. so effectively older lone parents who require extra supports to get back to work and extend their work life are being denied the special rate.
It is not reassuring and the government are acting like they expect this to vanish under the radar when in reality they are making third level more difficult to access and post graduate impossible. I think One Family really need to get their act together on this. What it is, is the introduction of a two tier class based education system.”
f. Timing of Information Sessions
Local offices are organising information sessions at inappropriate times for parents e.g. one office called parents in at 4pm on a Friday in mid-term; others at 2pm, without consideration given to the realities that the lone parents often have no childcare support or that children must be collected from school largely between 1.30pm-4.00pm.
g. ACCS | Childcare
Caroline (not her real name): Caroline went to her DSP local office seeking an eligibility letter while completing Job Bridge with One Family. She waited while staff tried to figure out what the scheme even was. They eventually sent Caroline away and left her a voicemail several weeks later saying that she needed to send them all the information that she had already given them in writing, including how many days of childcare she was eligible for – something she had expected them to be able to tell her. In the mean time Caroline was paying €100 per week in childcare during the summer despite being eligible to participate. When finally processed, Caroline requested a letter or confirmation that she was eligible, to hand to the provider. The Officer said they couldn’t give a letter on DSP headed paper.
It took 9 months to achieve an eligibility letter.
Parents cannot get a list of providers until you receive an eligibility letter from DSP. This doesn’t allow parents to plan, in advance of returning to work, which childcare provider they will use. Lone parents have just as much right as any other parent to choose their childcare provider wisely and be given the opportunity to visit creches in advance of returning to work. Unfortunately you cannot receive your eligibility letter until you have secured employment. The contribution being paid by DSP to providers is very low. The low amount also means that there is very little incentive for providers to sign up for the scheme, thus reducing availability across Ireland.
h. Working Parent | Now Poorer
Karen: I live in a village in east Cork with my two children aged 12 and 9. I am lucky to work in a permanent job-sharing position in Cork city. In recent years the children’s allowance has been reduced by €62 per month. To compound this, the LPA has been reduced by €58.80 per week. Overall that’s a weekly loss of €74.30 to our home. Although I recovered some of this loss with the support of the Family Income Supplement (FIS), it still led to a reduction of €40 per week. In July of this year I will no longer receive the LPA which will result in a further loss of €75 per week. This adjustment will total at approximately €115 per week. Also, during the months of October to March, I will no longer qualify for the €20pw fuel allowance as one of the conditions to be eligible was to be in receipt of LPA.
This leads me to consider my two options ahead of me in July. Option one would be to leave my job of 14 years. I would then need to wait for nine weeks without assistance in order to receive job seeker’s allowance. I will then get €217.80 per week. My mortgage is €160 per week. If I were to sell my house it would be at a probable loss. I would then need to apply for rent allowance until I could be re-housed by the Government. I would be completely dependent on welfare.
Option two would be to return to work full-time. I would require more money for petrol and childcare. I would no longer qualify for our medical cards, the back to school clothing and footwear allowance and I would need to pay €300 per year per child for a bus to take my children to secondary school in the nearest town. Although I would qualify for FIS, the amount given is 60% of the difference between the money I have every week and the money I should have every week. My children and I would be seriously pushed deep into poverty.
Personally and more importantly for me, what will be the emotional implications for my family if I were to return to work full-time? The key emotional times for children are mornings, school home times, meal times and bed time. My children are already living without one parent within their home, if I were to return to work full-time there would be no consistent parent within the home. Therefore, there will be consequences. It is my opinion that this may lead to children being troublesome in school, a reduced focus on school work/grades, resulting in the Government being requested to financially pay for support within the classroom.
What will be the implications outside of the school in particular in a couple of years when I will need to leave my children at home from 6.30am to 5.00pm during school holidays unsupervised? Possible implications are that my children’s development and possibly their career prospects could be affected.
I believe that the LPA has allowed me to practice/enjoy a good home/work balance which is not attainable without the continued support of the LPA. I would like for the Government to continue in their support for working lone parents until the children of lone parents have finished their education. Also, to return the earnings disregard to €147.50 instead of reducing it to €60.
The family home is the foundation of our society and we cannot under-estimate the importance of at least one consistent parent within that home. The benefit for the Government in cutting the LPA will only be a short term financial gain and poses a threat to the wellbeing of my family and to others in similar situations.
Last June in our monthly survey, we asked if people parenting alone experience shame because of their family form and if so, where the highest incidences occurred.
Almost 80% of respondents reported experiencing shame/embarrassment for being in a one-parent family. When asked in what circumstances this occurs, 59% said they felt shame when dealing with the Department of Social Protection staff as a lone parent.
- “I feel dehumanised by the Department of Social Welfare, like my parenting has no value in society, like I’m a waster. One officer told me that I sat around watching telly all day, I don’t even have a telly.”
- “The woman who interviewed me in my local social welfare office was awful, the manner in which she spoke to me and looked at me made me feel like dirt on her shoe. This woman treated me as though every word coming out of my mouth was a lie.”
- “I’ve been treated badly by my Community Welfare Officer. He treated me like the scum of the earth.”
- “Social Welfare gave me an awful time with my claim, they even asked about my sex life, how ignorant are they?!”
- “The Social Welfare System puts shame on One-Parent families; we are treated very badly by people working in that sector.”
- “I am a lone parent and was spoken down to in the Social Welfare office. I was made feel two inches tall by the end of their interrogation when I applied for the OPFP.”
- “I was told to give up my part time job when I first went on Rent Allowance and given advice that it ‘won’t pay to work until your son is in school’. The shame I felt being branded by the ‘OPF label’ when I was working part time and studying was really hard to take.”
NOTE: Since One Family submitted the document to the Department, we have received clarification on a number of the issues highlighted herein. These clarifications can be found in our askonefamily section here, by calling us on 1890 66 22 12 / 01 622 9212 to discuss your individual circumstances and receive support and information, and through regular updates on our Facebook page.