I thank the Ceann Comhairle and his office for selecting this item, a matter which is affecting many thousands of people and many of my constituents in the Lucan and greater Clondalkin areas. Today, my attention was drawn to a powerful speech by our President in America. He referred to the anger felt in Ireland at the betrayal of trust by individuals and institutions that characterised the Celtic tiger economy. One may ask what this has to do with delays in social welfare payments, but I believe it has a great deal to do with them.
I understand the legislation that governs social welfare claims is section 241 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 and that this is being reviewed and debated in the House at present. I welcome the Minister's plan for an integrated service for jobseekers which seeks the merger of community welfare officers from the HSE, the employment services of FÁS and the jobseekers section of the Department of Social Protection. I am also aware the Minister has inherited more than 1,000 community welfare officers in the Department of Social Protection this year.
The reality is that if the Minister or I were so unfortunate as to become ill and we did not have the means, our applications would take up to 17 weeks to process. It takes up to three months or more in the majority of cases and if an appeal is involved, it could take up to 40 weeks. Since there is a shortage of staff in the investigation division, some appeals have gone beyond 60 weeks in cases involving an oral hearing, to which every person is entitled.
I wish to bring another major issue to the attention of the House. Let us consider applications for the various entitlements, including carer's allowance, disability allowance, family income supplement, invalidity pension, etc. A major and significant factor in the processing of these applications is the location of the applicant and the office. For example, I understand applications being dealt with in Tallaght and Clondalkin are from local offices as far away as Clondalkin and Galway. This is causing considerable delays in the local offices. In addition, there are no local offices in some regions. This is the case in such areas as Lucan, Saggart, Newcastle and Rathcoole in my constituency.
I refer to the matter of casual work. Let us suppose a person is on social welfare payments or has a pending welfare payment and that person has an opportunity of casual work, short-term work, weekend work or several hours of work per week. This complicates the system. Many people have been advised not to take up certain opportunities to work because it would complicate the process and may impinge on one's social welfare allowance or one's pending supplementary welfare allowance. Such a person may lose that allowance. Something must be done to address these circumstances. Since people are refusing a small amount of work and there are delays in welfare applications, they are visiting the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in an effort to find food and to have food paid for to survive. This is the reality for many today. I realise the Government has inherited the situation and we should not lose sight of that fact. This makes the challenge all the greater.
There is a three month waiting time for the family income supplement for the working poor as well. There are more than 8,500 applicants awaiting an answer. Organisations such as MABS have been inundated with 7,500 new cases. Of the 29 free legal aid centres, a total of 22 are unable to meet the current client lists. Charities are being inundated with requests for help. I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence.