Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Questions (116)

Kevin Humphreys

Question:

116 Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Social Protection the current backlog for decisions in the carer’s allowance section of her Department; the length of time it is taking to process an application for carer’s allowance; if she has any proposals to speed up this process considering the anxiety it is causing many families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4274/12]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Social Protection)

The average time taken to award a claim for carer's allowance in the quarter ending Sept 2011 was 17 weeks. The average time to award for the last quarter of 2011 is unavailable as, due to the phased introduction of a new claims processing system in the carer's allowance area, new claims are being processed on the new system while older claims are still being processed on the old system.

As mentioned above, a major service delivery modernisation project is underway to improve the efficiency of administration of the carer's allowance scheme. This involves the development of information technology functions and associated business process re-organisation. The first tranche of new carer's allowance claims began to be processed under the new system in August 2011. It is anticipated that the new system will introduce significant processing efficiencies and a quicker and more responsive service to the customer. Accordingly, the project is being given high priority and involves a significant level of time and commitment from the relevant staff in the Department. This has had a short-term negative impact on claim processing times which is expected to continue until the completion of the modernisation project when all existing carer's allowance claims will be transferred onto the new processing system.

Some 7,800 applications are awaiting a decision at present, down from 8,540 at the beginning of September 2011. I acknowledge that the time taken to process carer's allowance claims at present is not satisfactory but I am satisfied that the Department is taking appropriate steps to resolve the situation. In addition to dealing with the approximately 330 new carer's allowance applications that are received each week, overtime working is being applied to help reduce backlogs that have built up chiefly as a result of the effort associated with the service delivery modernisation project. However, it is expected to be a significant number of months before the backlog is reduced to an acceptable level.

While the new systems and processes will facilitate a significant improvement in overall processing times, it should be noted that some individual claims may continue to take a longer time to process because of their complexity. Entitlement to carer's allowance is based on satisfying medical, means and residency conditions. In determining entitlement to the allowance, in certain cases unavoidable time lags are involved in making the necessary investigations and inquiries to enable accurate decisions to be made. Delays can also arise if those applying for the allowance are not in a position to supply all the necessary information in support of their claim.

In the meantime, if a person's means are insufficient to meet his or her needs while awaiting a decision on a claim, he or she can apply for a means tested supplementary welfare allowance payment from the department's community welfare service.

Question No. 117 withdrawn.