Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

37.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork was refused disability benefit and was told that he was capable of work when in fact he is attending an eye specialist and has a very serious eye condition.

Payment of benefit to the person concerned was disallowed by a deciding officer following an examination on 30 January last by a medical referee of my Department who expressed the opinion that the person was capable of work.

The person in question contested this disallowance and he was examined again on 3 April 1989 by a different medical referee who also considered him capable of work. He has been formally notified of this decision and was supplied with a form of appeal which he should complete and return within 21 days if he wishes to appeal against the disallowance so that his case can be referred to an appeals officer.

38.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork who has been on disability benefit for two and a half years was told that he was fit for work when he applied for invalidity pension recently.

The person concerned became entitled to disability benefit in July 1987. He applied for invalidity pension in October 1987 but was informed that to be entitled to a pension he had to have been on disability benefit for at least a year and be judged to be permanently incapable of work.

He was subsequently referred for examination by a medical referee of the Department on a number of occasions in the normal course of his disability benefit claim. In September 1988 a medical referee considered him to be incapable of work but not permanently incapable and so he was not entitled to invalidity pension.

At an examination on 20 December 1988 the person concerned was considered capable of work by a medical referee and again at a further examination on 14 February 1989 by a different medical referee he was also considered to be capable of work. Payment of benefit was accordingly disallowed.

The person concerned has appealed against this decision and his case will shortly be submitted to an appeals officer for determination.

40.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason a person (details supplied) in County Meath is in receipt of £10.40 per week unemployment assistance because he is living with his parents.

The person concerned claimed unemployment assistance on 27 November 1987. His means, derived from the value of the board and lodging in his parents' home and a small amount of capital were assessed at £28.25 per week. The amount of means assessed against him was confirmed on appeal. He applied for a review of his means on 15 December 1988 and his means, derived on this occasion solely from the value of board and lodging in his parents' home, were assessed at £30.10 per week with effect from 11 January 1989. He is currently in receipt of weekly payments of £10.60 being the maximum amount appropriate in his case of £40.70 less means of £30.10.

Section 146 (1) (e) of the Social Welfare Act 1981 as amended by Section 13 of the Social Welfare (No. 2) Act 1985 provides that the means of an applicant for unemployment assistance must take account of the yearly value of any benefit or privilege enjoyed by him. Free board and lodgings while residing in the home of one's parents or of a relative are considered to be a benefit for this purpose and its value must be assessed as means.

The purpose of assessing the value of board and lodgings is to achieve a degree of equity between applicants living in relatively better off circumstances as compared with those who are not so well off. The criteria used to assess the value of board and lodging to an applicant in these circumstances are designed to ensure that each case is decided fairly having regard to the standard of living of the household. No assessments are made where the parents' sole income is derived from social welfare payments.

41.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether his Department has ever undertaken research to find out if all claimants are getting the correct amounts of benefits; and if he has further satisfied himself that payments are made to claimants as soon as possible after the claims are lodged.

My Department has been associated with a major research project on poverty and the social welfare system in Ireland, carried out by the ESRI. The project involved a large-scale national household survey on poverty, income distribution, the usage of State services and in particular the effectiveness and efficiency of the social welfare system. The initial results of the study were published by the Combat Poverty Agency in September 1988.

The survey indicated that a small percentage of potential claimaints appeared to be receiving from the social welfare system less than their entitlements. The question of why people appear to be living on incomes of less than their apparent entitlements is one of a number of issues which are currently being further investigated, as part of a second phase of the ESRI study. The fieldwork for this second phase is currently under way, and the final report should be ready before the end of the year.

I am also very conscious of the need to ensure that social welfare payments are made to claimants as speedily as possible. There has been a steady improvement in this regard in recent years. The average time taken to process practically all categories of claims has fallen. This progress can be attributed to a number of important steps which have been taken to provide a more efficient and co-ordinated service to people who are dependent on social welfare or health board payments. These have included the setting up of the Social Welfare Services office, which is an executive office of the Department, responsible for the delivery of services.

The development of computerisation and improved procedures for processing claims have also brought about major improvements in the delivery of services. I am committed to ensuring that the service provided to social welfare recipients is continually improved and I will continue to keep procedures under review and to make any further improvements which are possible in this area.