More needs to be done to help struggling families claim the Scottish child payment as applications open for the new benefit, the Scottish Greens have said.
The social security scheme will initially pay eligible families £10 per week for each child under the age of six as part of efforts to reduce child poverty in Scotland.
Payments are then due to be fully rolled out for all eligible children under the age of 16 by the end of 2022.
The Scottish Government had planned to introduce the payment before Christmas but delayed its introduction until February 2021.
As the application process for the new benefit opens, the Scottish Greens have called on ministers to ensure all eligible families are aware of the payment to maximise take-up.
The party’s co-leader at Holyrood, Alison Johnstone, cited estimates that 39,000 families with under sixes – more than a fifth of all those who are eligible – could miss out on the payment when it launches.
The Scottish Fiscal Commission forecast predicted the benefit will be claimed for 155,000 children of the 194,000 who are believed to be eligible.
Ms Johnstone said: “It is good to see the application process for this badly-needed support open, but we should be seriously concerned that there are still a fifth of families who may not claim this because they are not aware of it.
“That figure doesn’t even include those who don’t claim qualifying benefits like Universal Credit, who will also miss out.
“Nearly one in four children in Scotland were growing up in poverty before this crisis hit, but now the need is more urgent than ever.
“Covid-19 presents a serious threat to Scotland’s ambitions on child poverty. Now, more than ever, we need to be ensuring that we plug the holes in the UK’s broken social security net.”
Applications for the benefit can begin from November 9, with the processing taking place by mid-February so applicants can be informed if they were successful and when to expect payments.
Speaking last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This will be a valuable source of additional support for all eligible families, that includes many who are struggling right now as a direct result of the pandemic.”
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the Scottish Government is expecting demand for the new payment to be “significant”.
She said: “The Scottish child payment is the most ambitious anti-poverty measure currently being undertaken anywhere in the UK.
“We are expecting a significant demand for this new payment, so are opening applications early from Monday November 9 and will make the first payments in around 15 weeks.
“A great deal of effort has gone into creating this payment – including overcoming the impact of coronavirus on plans and work schedules to ensure we get money to the families who need it.”
Ms Somerville added: “I encourage all parents and carers who may be eligible to apply now and am asking families to help us by getting their applications in early so that we can process and start making payments as quickly as possible once the benefit starts in February next year.
Parents with a child under the age of six who claim another benefit such as universal credit, child tax credit, working tax credit or income support are eligible for the Scottish Child Payment.