Income and Maintenance
1. Variation of Maintenance in Light of Loss of Income
The COVID-19 situation has resulted in many people suffering from a reduced income or loss of employment. If you cannot pay maintenance due under a court order, there is guidance available from the Legal Aid Board and from FLAC.
There may be situations where a One Parent Family recipient is no longer receiving maintenance for their child because the other parent has lost their job due to Covid-19 pandemic. In these cases, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection advises that the One Parent Family recipient should contact their local Intreo Centre and provide it with a letter (from the recipient) stating that they are no longer receiving the maintenance payment from the other parent. The Department will then revise their One Parent Family payment on that basis for a period of 12 weeks. After that period their means may be re-assessed at that stage following a review. As the family courts are not hearing maintenance cases during the pandemic, this situation is being carefully monitored on an ongoing basis, to ensure that these lone parents do not have to face any further difficulties or hardship at this time.
The Legal Aid Board’s guidance regarding maintenance during the COVID-19 crisis is available on the Legal Aid Board website. It suggests that you try to make contact before the payment is due and discuss an amount to the payment receiver which you feel would be more appropriate in the current circumstances. If an agreement cannot be reached you should pay what you believe is the appropriate amount in the circumstances.
Similarly, FLAC have information regarding the payment of maintenance on their COVID-19 Family Law information sheet. It is suggested that you contact the maintenance recipient to explain your situation, to discuss what payments might be made during this period. FLAC also suggest you keep a note of all communications made to the payment receiver.
Alternatively, if you are the party in receipt of maintenance and are finding yourself in financial difficulty due to COVID-19, it is advised to speak to the party providing maintenance and suggest an amended amount you feel is more suitable during the current circumstances. Timely communication is key as well as both sides acknowledging the circumstances the other may find themselves in because of the current crisis. For one parent families, One Family provide a very helpful ‘askonefamily helpline’ that specialises in issues affecting one-parent families where the sudden loss of child maintenance is common – lo call helpline 1890 662212.
Existing court orders must still be complied with. In situations where variations cannot be agreed, and you now need to seek to vary the existing court order, a problem arises in relation to reduced court sittings. Domestic Violence applications are being given priority in relation to Family Law during the COVID-19 crisis, applications regarding maintenance are not generally considered urgent by the Courts.
Applications to vary maintenance are available on the courts website.
The President of the District Court has stated that the best outcome for children is for parents to contact each other to set out their concerns and suggest ideas for practical solutions that can be put in place.
Barnardos are operating a national telephone and email support service for parents in response to the challenges they may be facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Enforcement for Non-Payment
Applications for breach of maintenance are not generally considered to be urgent by the Courts. However, the President of the District Court has stated that a case which does not come into the defined urgent category can be treated as urgent if a good case can be made.
The Family Lawyers Association have stated that there is a strong case to be made that family law cases for issues such as maintenance can and should be progressed from April 23rd onwards, provided that this can be achieved in a manner which is consistent with the safety and welfare of all Court users and staff.
Maintenance summons may be submitted by email to be issued and returned during this time. Application forms for maintenance are available on courts.ie.
3. Social Welfare Support
If you have been made redundant due to the COVID-19 crisis, you can apply for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. You should apply for Jobseekers Benefit at the same time.
The National Woman’s Council of Ireland has provided information for women who are struggling financially during the COVID-19 crisis. Information is provided on several issues such as illness benefit, lone parents and women who are carers.
If your only income is a social welfare payment, you will continue to receive this during the COVID-19 crisis. If you are medically required to self-isolate or you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you will also continue to receive your social welfare payments and will not be required to apply for Illness benefit. Social welfare payments will now be paid every 2 weeks
If you are unable to collect your payment from the post office due to illness or self-isolation there are a number of alternative options available to you during this time, detailed on the Citizens Information website.
The FLAC Information Sheet on Social Welfare provides information for people whose income is a mixture of both earnings from employment and a social welfare payment and answers a number of social welfare queries.
4. Variations to Support Childcare Costs
Parents are not obliged to pay childcare fees while they are not using childcare facilities. The Government is funding childcare providers so that childcare workers may continue to be paid. The Government has also assured parents that their children will not lose their places in childcare facilities due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Minister Katherine Zappone announced measures to support the childcare sector during COVID-19. The measures will, amongst other things, help to ensure that the childcare sector is in a position to reopen after COVID-19 and provide parents with a reassurance that they are not required to pay childcare fees during this COVID-19 crisis, while also providing them with reassurance that they will maintain their childcare places. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will fund childcare providers with a proportion of staff costs during the closure period to assist with their ongoing costs where needed. Childcare providers will be required to sign a new COVID-19 Emergency Agreement which requires providers to agree to not charge parents for childcare fees from March onwards and ensure staff are paid at a pre COVID-19 levels, with the benefit of the funding from Revenue and the DCYA. These emergency measures will apply for up to 12 weeks.
The Government website has provided further information for childcare providers. If any employer is unable to pay an employee or cannot provide a flexible working solution to the employee then the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protections provides a range of income supports that can support parents in these situation. The Department will continue to pay for all government childcare schemes while crèches and preschools are closed. Childminders may continue to operate provided they follow HSE advice to minimise the spread of COVID-19. Further information is available on gov.ie.