I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The community welfare service of my Department delivers the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is the safety net within the overall social welfare system. The scheme provides assistance to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs and those of their dependants. The Deputy can be assured that I am focused on the delivery of crucial community welfare services to meet the challenges and needs of customers throughout the country. This remains a priority for me and for my Department.
I am fully committed to developing and enhancing access to the community welfare service nationwide and to ensuring the service is responsive to customer needs, particularly in a time of crisis or emergency. There are no plans in place to centralise the community welfare service, and the continued availability of locally-based community welfare officers, CWOs, will remain a key feature of the service. It is important that the community welfare service remains a flexible service to meet the varying needs of vulnerable customers. For this reason, consultations can be arranged by telephone, at our Intreo centres and social welfare branch offices, which are open five days a week or by a direct home visit is possible, depending on the customer's needs and public health restrictions.
Furthermore, customers no longer have to meet in person with a community welfare officer to make a claim.
Access to community welfare services is not limited to a face-to-face meeting with a community welfare officer.
To help our customers and support our community welfare officer, where possible, the preparatory work on customer applications, for example the gathering of supporting documentation that is necessary to assess and finalise a claim, will be carried out by a back office team. However, the assessment and decision on claims and any further customer interactions or engagements with other agencies is then carried out by locally based community welfare officers as has always been the case.