The question relates to pension appeals lodged under the internal dispute resolution process of the Civil Service Pension Schemes.
First, I should advise the Deputy that appeals relating to the application of pension scheme rules are, of their nature, complex and not capable of easy resolution. In order for them to arrive at the appeal stage, decisions will already have been made on how those cases should be dealt with, but for one reason or another the individual is dissatisfied with the outcome and wishes to invoke their right to call for independent appeal.
In the appeal process on any individual case, my officials often have to engage with the employing Department or body, and sometimes with the applicant themselves or their legal advisor or union, to ensure that all the relevant facts have been obtained, before a formal submission can be prepared. In addition, complex pension scheme rules have to be carefully considered to ascertain whether they have been interpreted correctly or, in cases of ambiguity in the rules, to establish how a fair and just outcome can be obtained. On occasion, it is necessary to examine policy files relating to the pension term or condition at issue and to check for any precedent cases that might have relevance to the appeal case under review. In some cases, specific legal advice may be needed. Of its nature, this process is particularly time-consuming.
In relation to the year 2017, I can inform the Deputy that six appeals were lodged to my Department in that year under the Civil Service Pension Schemes Internal Dispute Mechanism.
Of the six appeals, the decision was issued to the appellant in four cases during 2017 (average time to process the appeal, eight months) while two cases remain outstanding.
Apart from appeals lodged during 2017, my Department also processed and issued decisions in respect of a number of other appeal cases which had been lodged prior to 2017.
I can assure the Deputy that my officials and I take very seriously our role in the processing and managing of appeal cases under the internal disputes resolution mechanism and, notwithstanding the constraints inherent in the process I have described, endeavour to ensure that decisions in appeal cases are issued in as timely a fashion as possible.