The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.
All claim decisions taken by the Department’s Deciding Officers and Designated Persons are appealable to the Chief Appeals Officer. In any year about 85% of all claims are awarded by the Department and just 1% are appealed. Nevertheless, the Department is concerned that these cases are dealt with as quickly as possible.
The average processing time for state pension (contributory) appeals to the end of September 2018 was 48.9 weeks for appeals requiring an oral hearing and 40.7 weeks for appeals which were determined by means of a summary decision.
The average processing time for state pension (contributory) appeals is considerably longer than the overall average appeals processing times (30.5 weeks for oral appeals and 25.2 for summary appeals) due to the nature of the issues under appeal. In the majority of cases the question under appeal concerns the insurance contribution record of the person concerned, and appeal processing times often include a significant period of time spent on additional investigations by social welfare inspectors of the Department.
The time taken to process an appeal reflects a number of factors including that the appeals process is a quasi-judicial process with appeals officers being required to decide all appeals on a ‘de-novo’ basis. In addition, appeals decisions are themselves subject to review by the High Court and decisions have to be formally written up to quasi-judicial standards.
In addition, a number of new Appeals Officers have joined the Appeals Office over the past 12-18 months to replace staff leaving on retirement. Given the complexity of the appeals process it takes some time for new staff to be trained up and develop expertise and this has led to somewhat longer processing times during this period. The Chief Appeals Officer has advised me that appeal processing times continue to be a priority for her office.
Finally, it should be noted that an appellant can claim supplementary welfare allowance pending the outcome of their appeal.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.