Uniform delays ‘unacceptable’

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A leading Derry community worker has criticised The Western Education and Library Board for delays in paying ‘Back to school uniform grants.’

This is despite the fact the new school term has now commenced and in some of the cases the WELB have acknowledged the claimants’ entitlement.

Dove House Neighbourhood Assist Project have been assisting a number of families facing the dilemma. “Many families are now in a position where they had to go into debt or face sending their child to school without the required attire,” said Ms. Kathleen Bradley at the Project. Dove House was instrumental in the introduction by then Education Minister, Catriona Ruane, of the school uniform grant system for those on social benefits. Ms. Bradley said: “I have assisted a number of parents who are facing delays in the grants being paid. One family with five children are still awaiting payment. That is a total uniform grant in excess of £200. This family unexpectedly had to find that in these hard pushed times. In 2012 we should have a one-stop IT system that is ‘customer centred.’ In this IT/internet age it is unacceptable that the WELB are awaiting on hard copy letters from Crown Buildings before processing their applications. That information should be one click away for statutory agencies.” The father of the five school children said: “We applied at start of summer. When we chased it up, they just said, ‘There is a back log’ and we ‘have to wait.’ We’ve now taken loans out with Provident so we’re in debt for a few months. Sorting five children out with uniforms we hadn’t budgeted for, is putting us under undue pressure.”

A spokesperson for the WELB said: “We are processing a number of final claims and payment should be made shortly.”