Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Questions (102)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

102. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the extent to which the time taken to determine appeals against decisions in respect of various payments provided by her Department continues to be examined with particular reference to cases where the medical information available is clear and incontrovertibly favours the applicants case and where, in many cases, considerable and unnecessary hardship is caused by any delay; if she will categorise such cases in the future with a view to minimising the stress on seriously ill applicants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11339/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that appeals where medical grounds are identified as an issue under appeal are referred in first instance to the Department's Medical Assessors for a second medical assessment and any further investigation, examination or assessment by the Department's Inspectors and Medical Assessors that is deemed necessary. The second medical assessment is carried out by a different medical assessor to the applicant’s first medical assessment, and affords an applicant a second opportunity to present medical evidence to my Department in support of their application for a scheme for which medical assessment forms part of the qualifying criteria.

Should the applicant be deemed suitable for a scheme following second medial assessment, the Deciding Officer may issue a revised decision in favour of the applicant. If after a second medical examination an applicant is again deemed not to meet the qualifying criteria, the appeal proceeds by assignment to an Appeals Officer.

Appeals Officers make summary decisions on the appeal based on documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing. Processing times of appeals reduced by 10.3 weeks overall in 2012 with respect to 2011. Of course, further improvement is needed. In that regard, the Chief Appeals Officer expects to finalise 6,000 more cases in 2013 than in 2012. There were 32,558 cases finalised in 2012; there is a major programme of process redesign and modernisation currently underway in relation to many scheme areas which will reduce backlogs and will also reduce the time taken for the Department to respond to requests from the SWAO for submissions in relation to appeals.

These measures will further reduce the waiting time for appellants. By its nature and because it is a quasi-judicial process, the processing of appeals takes time even at the best of times and reflects the fact that while every effort is made to deal with appeals as fast as possible this cannot be at the expense of fairness of due process.