It takes 15 weeks on average at present to finalise claims for carer's allowance. During 2006, the average was just over ten weeks and in 2005, the average was almost 13 weeks.
The reason for the current increase in average claim processing times is the increase in the number of claims being submitted. The number of claims submitted in 2006 was more than 20% higher than the total for 2005. A number of steps were taken to deal with this, including the deployment of additional staff and a revision of processing procedures to improve efficiency. As a result, the number of claims finalised in 2006 was 9% higher than the total for 2005.
While this led to an improvement in average claim processing times compared to the previous year, it did not keep pace with the increase in the volume of new claims. As a result, average claim processing times have lengthened in 2007. The number of claims submitted so far this year shows a further increase of more than 5% compared to the same period last year. There are over 28,000 carers' allowances in payment at present, compared to 25,000 at the end of 2005 and 23,000 at the end of 2004. There are currently 2,977 cases awaiting a decision, of which 67% were received within the past eight weeks. The majority of claims currently on hand will be processed within 15 weeks. With regard to the optimum claim processing time, my Department's aim is that 70% of claims for carer's allowance should be decided within nine weeks of submission.
Entitlement to carer's allowance is based on an applicant satisfying medical, means and residency conditions. In determining entitlement to the allowance there are, in certain cases, unavoidable time lags involved in making the necessary investigations and inquiries. Delays can also arise if persons applying for the allowance are not in a position to supply all the necessary information in support of their claim.
Many applicants for carer's allowance are already in receipt of another social welfare payment while their claim is being processed. Such payments will normally continue until entitlement to their carer's allowance is determined. Claimants who are not in receipt of any other social welfare payment may apply for supplementary welfare allowance in the interim period.
The resources available to my Department must be deployed to ensure good customer service, prevent fraud and abuse of the schemes and achieve value for money. My Department is engaged in an ongoing process to ensure that available resources are prioritised to the greatest extent possible on frontline service delivery and to ensure that the best possible standard of response is provided across the range of schemes and services. The position will be kept under review to ensure that the best possible level of customer service and customer response continues to be provided.
This approach brought about an improvement in claim processing times in 2006 compared to 2005. I am confident claim processing times will improve in the coming months.