Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Questions (402)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

402. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of social welfare appeals lodged in each of the years 2012 to 2018 and to date in 2019; the percentage of appeals which were successful; the average waiting time in these years in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30409/19]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

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.  

Appeals which had a favourable outcome for the appellant consist of appeals which were either allowed in full or in part by an Appeals Officer, or which were resolved by way of a revised decision in favour of the appellant by a Deciding Officer / Designated Person.

In any year about 85% of all claims are awarded by the Department and just 1% are appealed.  Nevertheless, the Department continues to work to ensure that these cases are dealt with as quickly as possible.  

There are a number of reasons why a decision which was refused at first instance might be successful on appeal and it is not necessarily the case that the first decision was incorrect.  It is often the case that new evidence is provided with an appeal and that, as a result, the original decision may be revised by the Deciding Officer or Designated Person.  This was the case in 37.6% of such successful outcomes in 2017, 31.5% of such outcomes in 2018 and 36.9% of such outcomes to the end of June 2019.  

Where the decision was not revised by the Department in light of the appeal contentions, further evidence is often provided by the appellant as the appeal process proceeds and, in addition, the Appeals Officer may gain insights when they meet the appellant in person at oral hearing which may influence the outcome of the appeal.  

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.  There has been some improvement for the first six months of 2019 with an oral hearing decision taking 28.2 weeks and a summary decision taking 23.2 weeks.  

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.  Other factors that influence appeals processing times include the quality of the initial decision – in this respect the Department has changed the decisions process in respect of medical schemes, in order to provide more information to the claimant.  I expect that this will help to reduce the number of appeals over time.  

In addition, a considerable 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, 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.  

The statistics required by the Deputy are set out in the following tables.  

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Appeal Receipts and Percentage of Favourable Decisions of Appeals Finalised 2012 – 2019

 -

Appeal Receipts  

Appeals Finalised  

Favourable Decisions  

Appeals Disallowed  

Withdrawn  

2012

35,484

32,558

50.4%

42.6%

7.0%

2013

32,777

38,421

55.0%

39.0%

6.0%

2014

26,069

31,211

56.5%

37.7%

5.8%

2015

24,475

25,406

58.8%

36.1%

5.1%

2016

22,461

23,220

59.2%

35.9%

4.9%

2017

19,658

18,980

60.1%

33.9%

6.0%

2018

18,854

18,507

58.8%

36.1%

5.1%

2019 (to 30/6/2019)

11,182

10,544

58.6%

36.4%

5.0%

Appeal Processing Times 2012 – 2019

Year

Average processing times (weeks)

Summary Decisions  

Average processing times (weeks)

Oral Hearings

2012

27.8

39.5

2013  

25.8

33.9

2014

21.1

28.6

2015

18.1

25.5

2016

17.6

24.1

2017

19.8

26.4

2018 

24.8

30.0

2019 (to 30/6/2019)

23.2

28.2