Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Questions (318, 320, 321)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

318. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will detail the clear, controlled targets used within her Department for clearing backlogs in applications and appeals for illness schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12611/13]

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Catherine Murphy

Question:

320. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection the way in which backlogs for illness scheme applications and appeals are prioritised; if there is a defined triage-type protocol to determine and deal with the need of the individual applicant; if she will detail this protocol; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12614/13]

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Catherine Murphy

Question:

321. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if a more permanent solution to handling social welfare assistance applications and appeals is being looked at instead of allowing backlogs to habitually develop and addressing them by redeploying staff temporarily; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12615/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 318, 320 and 321 together.

The Department is committed to delivering the best possible service to its customers and works to ensure that claims are processed in the most efficient and expeditious way possible, having regard to the eligibility conditions that apply to each scheme.

There are no significant backlogs of new claims awaiting decision in illness benefit, domiciliary care allowance or invalidity pension. Claims are processed within a short time of receipt.

In respect of disability allowance, there are approximately 6,500 applications for disability allowance awaiting a decision. The average number of weeks to award a disability allowance application is currently approximately 17 weeks. A recent analysis of the applications pending decision indicated that approximately 60% of them had been waiting for a decision for 12 weeks or fewer. Following completion of a major service delivery modernisation project for the scheme, a plan is in place to deal with day-to-day intake of new claims along with a programme to eliminate the backlog. Temporary staff has been assigned to the disability allowance area to assist in reducing the backlog. The target is to have new applications actioned within a short period of receipt and to have the backlog of disability allowance applications actioned by the end of quarter 2 2013.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has supplied the following information with regard to the time taken to process appeals in the illness-related schemes:

Average Processing Times of Appeals 2012

-

Summary Decisions

(weeks)

Oral Hearings

(weeks)

Disability Allowance

34.2

40.6

Domiciliary Care Allowance

32.5

41.4

Invalidity Pension

38.8

48.7

Illness Benefit

41.8

50.6

Appeals processing times are calculated from the registration date of the appeal to the date of its finalisation and include all activities during this period including time spent in the Department for comments by the deciding officer on the grounds of appeal put forward by the appellant and any further investigation, examination or assessment by the Department’s inspectors and/or medical assessors that is deemed necessary. A considerable period of time is added to the process when an oral hearing is required because of the logistics involved in this process.

As a consequence of the very high number of decisions made in the last 9 months while backlogs have been reducing, there has been a corresponding substantial increase in the number of appeals being received. Delays in the preparation of claims for appeal are arising as a consequence and this is regretted. In addition, delays have developed in the processing of medical assessments and reviews due to a combination of factors including the increased workload for medical assessors and the reduced number of medical assessors due to retirements. The Department is addressing this issue and has recently run a competition to establish a new panel of medical assessors. Three new medical assessors were appointed from this panel and all commenced work in November 2012. It is expected that a further 8 medical assessors will be appointed from the panel in the near future.

In the interests of fairness and equity claim for illness-related schemes are generally processed in order of the date in which they are received. However, the individual schemes may operate systems to appropriately prioritise certain claims in view of the particular circumstances. For example disability allowance new claims received from 16 year olds who were previously in receipt of domiciliary care allowance and illness benefit claims from persons who have no other income are given priority.

The aim in respect of all social welfare scheme areas, including the illness-related schemes, is to process new claims within a short time of receipt and to process requests for appeals as quickly as possible. Targets are set and monitored for each scheme. It can happen that, from time to time, a backlog may build up in any scheme. This may be the result of a number of factors, changes in scheme conditions, and other demand on resources, long term sick leave, claim volume increases to name but a possible few. In that event, the Department makes every effort to ensure that there is adequate resource to process the additional work. In some cases, temporary staff may be assigned to help in these situations, but they are not used as a permanent solution.

Service delivery remains a key priority in my Department and processes are kept under continuous review to ensure that services are delivered promptly to customers. Staffing needs are also kept under constant review to ensure that the best use is made of all available resources.