I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 26 together.
My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers, ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible.
Processing times vary across schemes, depending on the differing qualification criteria. Social welfare schemes such Carer’s Allowance (CA), with a number of complex qualifying conditions can take longer to process. Before a decision can be made on entitlement to CA, evidence must be provided in respect of the care recipient’s care requirement, the level of care the carer provides and the carer's means. It is also the case that in order to register their claim and establish an early entitlement claim date many people submit a claim without first securing all of the necessary supporting documentation. While this does ensure that people will be paid with arrears from an early "effective" date it does mean that the time taken to subsequently submit, receive and then assess this additional information is also reflected in the processing times.
The average processing time for the award of a Carer's Allowance claim from January 2019 to August 2019 was 14 weeks. I wish to reassure the Deputy that claim processing is kept under active review, with all possible steps taken to improve processing times. This includes the assignment of additional resources, where available, and the review of business processes, to ensure the efficient processing of applications. As an example, additional staff have been temporarily assigned to the Carer's Allowance area to work on claims processing and changes have been made to the operational processes to maximise processing capability and assist in improving processing times. As the Deputy points out, in the event of need, supplementary welfare allowance is always available to avoid hardship.
I hope that clarifies the matter for the Deputy.