Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Questions (920, 921, 922, 923, 924, 925)

Michael Ring

Question:

991 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will meet staff representatives from those unions representing CWS staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28668/06]

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Michael Ring

Question:

992 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will give a commitment that the special nature and ethos of the community welfare service and its efforts to alleviate social distress will not in any way be curtailed by his Department; his views on strengthening SWA legislation in order to further enshrine its unique flexibility and prompt ability to respond to need as this feature is not characteristic of schemes administered and controlled by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28669/06]

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Michael Ring

Question:

993 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the instances where claims authorised for payment by community welfare staff have been withheld, delayed or stopped by officials from within his Department and that such interference will increase if the buffer afforded to the CWS by the Health Boards is removed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28670/06]

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Michael Ring

Question:

994 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether there is a clash of cultures between the ethos of the community welfare service and that of his Department such that the decision to transfer the CWS into DSFA has to be regarded as a hostile takeover; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28671/06]

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Michael Ring

Question:

995 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will assure this Deputy as a public representative that the future development and administration of the Community Welfare Service will continue to be delivered locally, from multiple and diverse locations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28672/06]

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Michael Ring

Question:

996 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the plans in place for the future development and administration of the community welfare service; the process by which the decision to subsume the community welfare service into his Department was made; if he will commit to meaningful engagement with those who deliver the service and also with service users; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28673/06]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 991 to 996, inclusive, together.

The decision to transfer certain functions from the Health Service Executive (HSE) to my Department follows on from recommendations made by the Commission on Financial Management and Control Systems in the Health Service in its report. The Commission noted that, over the years, the health system had been assigned responsibility for a number of activities that might be regarded as non-core in the context of a health service. In view of the range of challenges facing the health sector, it recommended that the Government consider assigning such non-core activities currently undertaken by agencies within the health service to other bodies. The objective is to locate these functions more appropriately and allow the HSE to concentrate on its core health functions.

The decision does not present a clash of cultures between this Department and the Community Welfare Service. The supplementary welfare allowance scheme is administered by the Community Welfare Service of the Health Service Executive on my behalf. The scheme is provided for in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act. That legislation currently provides that the scheme is administered by the Health Service Executive, under my general direction and control. Indeed, the positive attributes of the service, to which the Deputy refers, reflect the values and objectives that I and my predecessors have established over the years as part of the general direction afforded to the Community Welfare Service. This has enabled the Community Welfare Service to play a vital role within the overall social welfare system. The existing mechanisms of delivery allow the service to be responsive, flexible and outcome focused. These are attributes for which there will be a continuing need into the future. I can assure the Deputy that the new arrangements will maintain and where possible, enhance the service in those respects. The initiative also involves major organisational and human resource challenges for my Department and for the Community Welfare Service. A working group comprising officials from my Department, the Department of Finance, the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive, has been established to progress its implementation. The approach includes a consultative process which will involve all relevant stakeholders including the various unions representing staff interests both in my own Department and in the Community Welfare Service.

The implementation process will also include consideration of the legislative changes and, in that regard, I will consider any recommendations that may be made for strengthening the legislation with a view to improving the service.

As stated, the administration of the scheme by the Health Service Executive currently is subject to my general direction and control and is delivered in accordance with guidelines and circulars issued by my Department. The Executive avails of advice and guidance from my Department but neither I nor my Department has any function in relation to decisions on individual claims.

My Department operates certain control measures across all its schemes where payments exceed specified amounts. Where supplementary welfare allowance payments exceed the specified amount a superintendent community welfare officer is required to counter-sanction the payment. If this sanction is not received within a specified period, normally 3 weeks, the payment is cancelled and a cheque will not issue. I understand that the incidence of this arising is minimal.

If the Deputy is aware of other instances where payments are delayed or stopped and if he provides the details to me I will have the matter examined.

The arrangements I have outlined are purely an administrative control function. Decisions regarding entitlement to supplementary welfare allowance rest solely with the Health Service Executive and neither I nor my officials have any role in this matter.

I am confident that the transfer of services from the Community Welfare Service to my Department will be embraced successfully and will ultimately further enhance the delivery of services to our customers, in particular the most disadvantaged in the community. During the implementation programme, my officials will be available to meet the relevant unions and other shareholders. I will continue to give a high priority to supporting the continued delivery of the high standard of service currently provided by staff in the Community Welfare Service.