The Department of Social Protection operates within the employment control framework set by Government for the public service which imposes an overall staffing ceiling for the Department on an annual basis. Whilst it is a Government objective, as part of its public service reform programme, to reduce the numbers working in the public service, the requirement to reduce staffing levels within the Department has been ‘backloaded’ over the period of the reform programme in recognition of the nature of the services provided by the Department and the scale of demand for such services. In this regard, the Department has been a significant beneficiary of the redeployment system within the public services over the last five years with over 1,000 staff redeployed from other Departments and public service agencies to fill critical vacancies and ensure continued provision of services. The Department has sought to address the increased demand for services in a number of ways including the re-engineering of business processes, increased use of automation and systems solutions, rationalisation of services and, more recently, the integration of processes with a view to ensuring improved services to customers. Through these approaches, very significant progress has been made in addressing backlogs and improving processing times across the range of scheme areas operated by the Department.
Operating within the overall employment control framework, the Department has directed additional resources towards the SWAO in recognition of the significant increase in demand for the services of that office in recent years. Since January 2011 the numbers of Appeals Officers in the SWAO has increased from 21 to 43.
The number of appeals submitted to the SWAO has increased dramatically since 2008 with the number of receipts doubling from an average of 15,000 a year to 35,484 in 2012. With improved processes within the SWAO, the number of cases finalised has risen from an average of 13,500 to 32,558 in 2012. Processing times of appeals have 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; and the programme of process redesign and modernisation currently underway in relation to many scheme areas will reduce remaining backlogs and will also reduce the time taken for the Department to respond to requests from the SWAO for submissions in relation to appeals.