I propose to take Questions Nos. 330, 332, 334, 336, 338, 339 and 343 together.
I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that, from about early 2009 the number of appeals received by that Office has increased dramatically and by 2011 had more than doubled from an average of 15,000 pa to 32,000. A further 18,826 have been received for the first half on this year. The pressure placed on the office by this rapid increase in workload has resulted in unacceptable delays for our customers.
In an effort to reduce the processing times for all appeals, the Department has appointed 13 additional Appeals Officers since 2010. In addition, a further 10 Appeals Officers, formerly employed by the Community Welfare Services (CWS) of the Health Services Executive joined the Office as part of the integration of the CWS appeals services into the Social Welfare Appeals Office, bringing the total number of Appeals Officers now serving in the Office to 40. In addition to this the Office has improved its business processes and IT support.
I am assured by the Chief Appeals Officer that she is keeping the methods of operation by which the Social Welfare Appeals Office conducts its business under constant review, and that the processes are continuously being enhanced to reduce the backlogs in the Office and, overall, to reduce the processing times for dealing with appeals.