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.
Accordingly, significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years. As a result, appeal processing times in respect of all schemes improved between 2011 and 2017 from 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing in 2011 to 26.4 weeks in 2017 and from 25.1 weeks for a summary decision in 2011 to 19.8 weeks in 2017. The corresponding processing times for the year 2018 were 30 weeks for an oral hearing and 24.8 weeks for a summary decision. The figures for the first five months of 2019 show some improvement with 28.2 weeks taken to process an oral hearing and 23.3 weeks taken to process a summary decision.
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. The Chief Appeals Officer has advised me that appeal processing times continue to be a priority for her Office.
The time taken to process an appeal reflects all aspects of the appeal process including the time spent in the Department reviewing the decision in light of the appeal contentions and / or preparing the appeal submission. In advance of sending a person's file papers to the Social Welfare Appeals Office, a review of the case is undertaken to assess if the decision can be revised based on the appeal information. In some cases it is necessary for the Department to go back to customers for additional information. The average time an appeal spent in the Department in 2018 was 9.6 weeks. The equivalent figure for the first five months of 2019 was 9.1 weeks. The Department continues to work with the Social Welfare Appeals Office to reduce the time taken to submit appeal files and Deciding Officer submissions.
Finally, where a claimant has been refused a social welfare payment, regardless of the scheme involved, and is appealing that decision, if their means are insufficient to meet their needs it is open to them to apply for supplementary welfare allowance in the interim. If their application for supplementary welfare allowance is refused, they can also appeal that decision. The supplementary welfare allowance appeal will be prioritised for attention within the Appeals Office as soon as the appeal file and submission is received from my Department.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.