I welcome the publication of the Ombudsman's 2011 annual report and the Department is examining its contents in detail with a view to ensuring issues of concern are addressed. The 1,135 complaints relating to the Department, which represents a slight drop on the 2010 figure of 1,181, must be seen in the context of the scale of the Department's business. Some 1.76 million decisions were made on new claims in 2011. This is in addition to the many decisions made on claims already in payment where there were changes in the claimants' circumstances, for example, changes to earnings or capacity to work or changes in family composition.
The Department has some 7,000 staff in 180 offices and 700 localised clinics; it administers over 50 schemes and makes 85 million payments annually. Given the extent and complexity of the Department's business, unfortunately mistakes can sometimes occur. The Department endeavours to keep errors to a minimum and take corrective action, where necessary, as soon as possible.
It is also noted that the number of complaints received is not an indication of the number of cases resolved — of the 1,395 total cases related to this Department completed in 2011, almost 1,000 (72%) were discontinued or not upheld.
Although the Ombudsman's report provides a case study about a man initially refused carer's allowance, it does not refer to any general dissatisfaction with the Department's administration of its illness/disability schemes or the domiciliary care allowance scheme.
However, some media reports covering the publication of the Ombudsman's report have raised issues in relation to these schemes.
Decisions on claims are made by statutorily appointed Deciding Officers/Designated Persons in accordance with legislation and extensive supporting guidelines. Claimants who meet scheme criteria are awarded payment and those who do not, are refused. Any notion that officers are using discretion to refuse claims to save money is completely unfounded; the only consideration is a person's eligibility under governing legislation.
Principles of natural justice are adhered to and it is an integral part of the decision making process to supply claimants with the reasons for, and the grounds of, refusal.
Where claimants are dissatisfied with decisions made they are afforded the opportunity of having the decision reviewed by the Department and/or appealed to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office.
The review of the operation of the domiciliary care allowance scheme that I recently announced has commenced.