The number of people applying for one-off urgent and exceptional needs payments from the Government when they find they cannot pay bills or put food on the table has increased by 75%.
Figures obtained through a parliamentary question by Labour's social protection spokesperson Sean Sherlock show 97,224 people applied for the payments last year, which is an increase of 41,672 when compared to 2021.
These single welfare payments are designed to help people when they cannot afford essential expenses such as household bills and repairs.
That amounted to over €58.2m paid out for these once-off payments from the Government last year, compared to €41.8m paid out to 55,552 people in 2021.
This means there was a 75% increase in the number of people getting these payments and the total amount paid out jumped by nearly 40%.
Comparing 2022 to 2021, the biggest increase in exceptional and urgent needs payments was for clothing assistance. It rose from over €1m to €5.7m.
This increase related in part to Ukrainian people fleeing to Ireland.
Payment for exceptional and urgent housing payments, which helps people with rent deposits, housing repairs, bedding, furniture and the kitting out of new accommodation, went from €30.8m to €35.4m.
The Department of Social Protection told Morning Ireland the rise was connected with "household repairs and an increase in new Local Authority accommodation kit outs".
The amount of money paid to help people with funeral expenses increased from €5m to €6.6m in 2021 and 2022 respectively. The reason for this, the department said, was there were more people looking for help with paying for funerals.
Then in 2021, over €2.9m was paid out in general expense exceptional needs payments. These cover everything from travel costs to heating and rose to €7.5m last year.
Mr Sherlock said the figures show the cost of living crisis is not abating.
The Cork East TD said: "This is clear evidence that the cost of living crisis is still ongoing. Increasingly for working people, mortgages are now increasing in terms of their monthly costs.
"That's having a knock-on effect in terms of people's ability to feed their households and put fuel in the car.
"It’s vitally important that we maintain these supports for people because we're seeing the evidence in our constituency office of an uptick in the number of people who are making queries about getting access to these payments."
Demand grows for credit services
The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) said people are starting to depend more on credit services.
"It wouldn't be a surprise to us in MABS. In terms of 2022, we have seen a steady increase in people needing additional income supports. In reality, this is a combination of rising prices of cost of living items, inflation and less disposable income. That's where the problem is for a lot of people.
"We're also seeing people who are more reliant now on credit cards and other lines of credit to buy essential everyday items, which is a concern that we would have too," said Michelle O’Hara, MABS national spokesperson.
The Simon Community said the exceptional and urgent needs payments are keeping families in their homes.
"We're seeing the cost of living is biting anybody who has a crisis, a loss of employment, or an injury that causes them to be out of work for a while. That can lead to homelessness in the context of not being able to cover all their bills.
We have been utilising particularly the urgent needs payments to help keep people in their homes. I would go as far to say they're now part of the critical infrastructure we need to prevent homelessness," said Wayne Stanley, Executive Director with Simon Communities of Ireland.
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Last October, the Department of Social Protection said in a statement to Morning Ireland 63% of urgent and exceptional needs payments were processed in four weeks.
However, when contacted by RTÉ News, the department failed to give an updated figure and said "a high percentage" take two weeks.
The department also confirmed over 17,628 applications (15%) for the one-off payments were disallowed.
Charities who spoke to Morning Ireland said urgent payments were generally pushed through quickly, but in some cases they were taking as long as 12 weeks. It did not have a figure for 2021.
Patricia Keilthy, Head of Social Justice and Policy with Saint Vincent de Paul, said urgent needs such as heating and food are being dealt with, but added in some cases there were delays in payments of up to 12 weeks.
"We've heard that people have been dealt with quickly, but we are seeing and hearing from our members about long delays in relation to things like white goods, cookers, fridges, things like that. Anywhere up to 8 weeks to 12 weeks," Ms Keilthy said.
"We've seen very positive changes in terms of the eligibility for the scheme that have brought more people into it. We’ve really seen an improvement in terms of signposting and advertising for the service.
"The scheme is meeting needs that go beyond additional or exceptional needs. They relate really to fundamentals needed for human survival, like food, clothing and a warm home. So I think really it's just reflecting the inadequacy of our income support.
"We’re really concerned about the fact that the Budget 2023 measures that took effect from January were below the rate of inflation.
"We’re going to see people having to rely on the additional needs scheme more and more because we have an inadequate social welfare system."