In February 2006, as part of its reform of the health sector, the Government decided that the administration of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, SWA scheme, as well as certain other functions, would transfer to the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
Provision has been made in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2008 for the transfer of the administration of SWA to the Department to take place. This provision is subject to a commencement order. Officials from the Department, the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive have met the superintendent community welfare officers as a group on three occasions to provide information and to discuss issues related to this transfer.
In addition, officials are engaged on an ongoing basis in discussions with unions representing the community welfare service staff with regard to the transfer proposals. These discussions are being facilitated by an independent chairperson. While progress has been made in these discussions in some areas, a number of issues remain to be resolved. The intention is to reach a collective agreement with the unions that will address the concerns of all the staff involved. Discussions are also taking place with the Civil Service unions representing staff in the Department with regard to the transfer proposals.
During the course of the discussions, the unions have sought assurances about the future role of community welfare officers and the discretionary element of the SWA scheme. Assurances have been given that when the service transfers to the Department, the existing flexibilities will be retained and the community welfare officers will continue to make discretionary payments under the SWA scheme. They will remain community based and will continue to provide key information, advice, advocacy and referral links between agencies.
The integration of the community welfare service with the Department will allow for development of the role of community welfare officers. There is already a significant level of liaison between them and locally based staff in the Department. Under an integrated management structure, existing areas of duplication of work can be reduced, which will, ultimately, will lead to an improved and more efficient service for the public.
The Department is moving to provide a more dynamic response to the needs of the unemployed, lone parents and persons with disabilities. This involves a more direct engagement with these groups and the introduction of a case management and activation approach. Community welfare officers have experience and expertise with regard to dealing with people who are disadvantaged. They are well placed to become involved in the development of the case management and activation approach. There will be ongoing consultation with staff on these developments.
In the meantime, the Department's priority is to maintain a high standard of service to the public during the implementation of the transfer of functions from the HSE.