I am informed by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that there are, currently, just over 14,000 appeals awaiting processing by that office and that, during 2008, the average time taken to process all appeals (i.e. those decided summarily and by way of oral hearing) was 22 weeks. However, if allowance was made for the 25% most protracted cases, the average time fell to just over 14 weeks. Those processing times replicate those for 2007 notwithstanding the fact that there was an increase of 27% in the number of appeals received during 2008. I am advised that there has been a further increase of 41% in the number of appeals received to date this year over the corresponding period in 2008 and, while average processing times for 2009 are not yet available, I am concerned they will have deteriorated when compared to the 2008 position.
The number of staff employed in the Social Welfare Appeals Office is, as outlined in the Annual Report of the Chief Appeals Officer, 59. These comprise the Chief Appeals Officer, the Deputy Chief Appeals Officer, 17 Appeals Officers and 40 administrative staff.
Two additional Appeals Officers were appointed to the Social Welfare Appeals Office earlier this year in recognition of the increased workload in the office.
The number of appeals processed by the Social Welfare Appeals Office during the last five years is as follows:
2004 — 14,089
2005 — 13,419
2006 — 14,006
2007 — 13,845
2008 — 15,724
Improving processing times and introducing efficiencies remains a major objective of the Social Welfare Appeals Office, however, it is necessary at all times, given the quasi-judicial nature of the appeals process, to ensure that progress in this regard is achieved in a manner which is not in conflict with due process in terms of the rights of appellants and adherence to the requirements of natural justice.