The Community Welfare Service in my department delivers the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is the safety net within the overall social welfare system. This scheme provides assistance to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs and those of their dependents.
While seeking to comply with public health restrictions, Intreo offices remained open throughout the pandemic albeit on a limited basis. The offices are now open five days per week and any person with a need to access the Community Welfare Service can attend at an Intreo office every morning or make an appointment for an afternoon meeting. As the deputy may also be aware the Department has also put in place special arrangements to make it easier for victims of domestic violence to access the CWS services during the pandemic.
In line with public health advice my department is seeking to reduce face to face contact and where possible access for customers to the community welfare service is being provided over the telephone but in-person engagements can be facilitated. Since the starts of the pandemic in March last year, over 76,000 exceptional and urgent needs payments have been processed by community welfare officers using both telephone based and faced to face engagements with clients.
I consider the community welfare service to be an essential service and my department will continue to provide access to customers during the course of the current pandemic.
Customers attending a face to face meeting with a member of my staff are requested to wear a face covering or mask. Customers are advised not to attend in person if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, are awaiting a COVID-19 test or test results, are required to self isolate or restrict their movements.
Perspex screens are in place for the safety of both staff and customers, while the duration of all face to face meetings are kept as short as practically possible and social distancing guidelines observed at all times.
I wish to assure the Deputy that the supplementary welfare allowance scheme is kept under review to ensure that it continues to provide a timely response to support those most in need of assistance. Providing a prompt effective service is a key objective for dealing with applications for all schemes, and in particular for the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.