The Department is committed to ensuring that claims are processed as expeditiously as possible. Processing times vary across schemes, depending on the differing qualification criteria. Schemes that require a high level of documentary evidence from the customer, particularly in the case of illness-related schemes, can take longer to process. Similarly, means-tested payments can also require more detailed investigation and interaction with the applicant, thereby lengthening the decision making process.
As part of the Department's programme of service delivery modernisation, a range of initiatives aimed at streamlining the processing of claims, supported by modern technology, have been implemented in recent years. Operational processes, procedures and the organisation of work are continually reviewed to ensure that processing capability is maximised.
Backlogs have built up in some scheme areas, specifically carers allowance and invalidity benefit and every effort is being made to speed up the processing of these claims. In addition to the deployment of new systems, the Department is allocating additional resources in the form of overtime working and temporary staff to help reduce backlogs that have built up. However, it is expected to be a number of months before the backlog is reduced to an acceptable level.
In an effort to reduce appeal processing times, the Department appointed 12 additional Appeals Officers since between 2010 and 2011. In addition, a further 10 Appeals Officers, formerly employed by the Community Welfare Service (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. This brought the total number of Appeals Officers to 39. In addition to this, the Office has improved its business processes and IT support.
I wish to assure the Deputy that prompt processing of claims remains a priority for me.