Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Questions (2756, 2822)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

2756. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the waiting time for a social welfare appeal to be decided on; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33243/19]

View answer

Niall Collins

Question:

2822. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the average length of time to have an appeal both oral and otherwise heard in each county in each year since 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33905/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2756 and 2822 together.

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.

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.

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 Social Welfare Appeals Office does not maintain appeal processing statistics on a county by county basis and it is not in a position to supply that specific information.

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.

Appeal processing times for the years 2011 to 2019 are set out in the following table.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Appeal Processing Times 2011 – 2019

Year

Average Processing Times (weeks) Summary Decisions

Average Processing Times (weeks) Oral Hearings

2011

25.1

5 2.5

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