Children's charity Barnardos has warned that an IMF recommendation to means test child benefit could hit struggling working families.

Barnardos Director of Advocacy Norah Gibbons has cautioned against an ''over-quick'' reaction to the proposal made by IMF officials yesterday.

Ms Gibbons said that working families, who are just barely able to meet mortgage payments and other bills at the moment, are the most vulnerable to poverty traps and would be hit hardest by any move to means test the benefit.

She said Barnardos firmly believed in some form of universal child support in recognition of the cost of rearing children.

Speaking in the Dáil, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said that means testing child benefit and over 70s medical cards were medium to long term recommendations by the IMF and do not relate to Budget 2013.

Meanwhile, the Seanad has heard that many papers have been done on child benefit, and it is impossible to tax or means test it as the administration costs are so high.

Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout, who is also the CEO of the Children's Rights Alliance, said universal child benefit demonstrates our valuing of children in society, and that changing it would remove a safety net when it is needed most.

She added that one must apply to get child benefit, and that people should not apply if they feel they should not get it.

Elsewhere, a network representing single-parent families has said child benefit is a vital part of household income and should not be means tested.

OPEN Director Frances Byrne said the cost of determining how to implement the measure would outweigh the savings made on the payment.

She said putting an arbitrary income threshold on child benefit would create welfare traps, and hit the lower-paid.