At present, Child benefit is paid automatically to mothers rather than fathers. However, a spokesperson for Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, said that he is looking at how the monthly payment of €140 per child could in some cases be made to fathers or guardians of children, instead of their mothers.
This change would obviously require new legislation. Child benefit is currently paid to one “qualified person . . . with whom a qualified child normally resides” and under the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 this is assumed in the first instance to be the mother. On the birth of a first child, the mother is contacted and invited to apply for the payment. For subsequent children the payments are automatically made to her and this has been the case since 1974 when child benefit, or children’s allowance as it called, was introduced.
This was at a time when many mothers did not work outside the home and because it gave them income to be spent at their discretion it was felt that such a payment would directly benefit the child.
Family structures have changed significantly over the years, which is why the Minister is now said to be looking at changing the rules. Additionally, the current legislation has been contested recently before the Equality Tribunal and faces a number of High Court challenges in coming months, on the grounds of gender discrimination.