Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Disability Benefit Payments.


asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he is aware of the enormous problems in his Department relating to disability benefit payments to County Wexford because of a fault with a computer, which causes delays of up to four weeks, and where the local health board are hampered in their efforts to make up the shortfall because of lack of communication between his Department and the health board; and the proposals he has to end this inefficiency.


asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he has any proposals for localising payments in view of the long delays in payment of disability benefits being experienced by claimants in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason for the delays in the payment of weekly disability benefit to recipients in Wexford town and surrounding areas over the past several months; and in view of the hardship and chaos this is causing and as there has been no change in submitting medical certs by the recipients if he will ensure that payments will again be made weekly.


asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether, in view of the delays and hardship endured by recipients of disability benefit in Wexford town arrangements will be made to make payment locally.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4, 10, 30 and 31 together. I am not aware that there have been any particular problems in relation to delays in the processing of disability benefit claims from Wexford or from any other part of the country.

The position generally in relation to disability benefit is that payments are being issued promptly where the claim is made correctly and the claimant is qualified on his or her insurance record. There have been no measurable delays due to computer faults and, in fact, the Department have comprehensive fallback arrangements in the unlikely event of a computer failure.

The issue of payment depends largely on the receipt of medical evidence of incapacity and any delay or irregularity in the submission or delivery of medical certificates to the Department inevitably causes delays.

Examination of medical certificates forwarded to the Department has shown that a number of claimants fail to quote their RSI number correctly and this can result in delay of payment. Every effort is made to issue payments for disability benefit recipients as speedily as possible after receipt of medical evidence and in most cases cheques are actually issued on the same day as the certificates are received. Inevitably a small proportion may be issued on the day following receipt of the certificate. Naturally, I cannot comment on specific cases in the absence of identifying particulars. If the Deputies would arrange to furnish details of any cases which have been brought to their attention, the matter will be looked into further in those cases.

I am very conscious of the need for the speedy processing of disability benefit claims. In this respect internal administrative practices are kept under continuous review to ensure that they are operating as efficiently as possible.

The Department are installing a major telecommunications and computer network as a first step in providing improved local services. This includes computerised links with certain community welfare officers of the health boards. The progress already achieved has resulted in the provision of up to date information at some locations outside Dublin. As the network develops, possibilities to further improve the service which can be provided locally will arise.

Is the Minister aware of the extent of the public disquiet in County Wexford because disability benefits are not available? Is the Minister aware that a public meeting was called to discuss the matter and that unacceptable pressure has been put on the local community welfare service which is inundated weekly with scores of recipients looking for their cheques? Will the Minister agree that the fact that four questions dealing with this matter have been tabled by Members from Wexford is an indication of the difficulties in that county? Has the Minister any plans to cope with that localised difficulty?

I am aware that a public meeting took place in Wexford on Monday 30 March to discuss the disability benefit scheme. The meeting was organised by the Centre For The Unemployed which operates under the auspices of the Wexford Council of Trade Unions and was attended by one Deputy who said he was representing the four Members from the constituency. The meeting, which was also attended by aldermen, councillors and representatives of the Department of Social Welfare, decided to press for the operation of the disability benefit scheme on the same local basis as unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance. However, there was no specific evidence of widespread delays produced at the meeting. There were generalised references to difficulties being experienced in individual cases. That is the position officers in my Department found when they investigated the matter. If the Deputy is aware of specific problems and he brings them to my attention I will have them investigated.

Is the Minister aware that recently I phoned in 50 queries to his Department because of the failure to pay disability benefits? Arising out of that public meeting, have the Department been in a position to cost a change in the system to permit the payments to be made locally?

That is a separate question.

It deserves a reply.

I suggest the Minister should discuss this matter in depth with his civil servants. Is the Minister aware that since last September — it was then that this came to my notice — something happened to the system of paying weekly disability benefit cheques? The monthly system seemed to be working well but from September, whether all recipients of weekly disability benefit cheques forgot their RSI numbers or adopted a different method of submitting medical certificates I do not know, something happened. Are there difficulties at local level with An Post or in the social welfare office? Is the Dublin office responsible? I do not know where the hiccup in the system is, but there is a major problem in Wexford in regard to that scheme. While we are waiting for the introduction of a system of local payments will the Minister ensure that the supplementary welfare payment system is speeded up because difficulties also arise in regard to it? Apparently, the health board need certain certificates before they can make payments in the absence of disability benefit cheques. This major problem has been going on for months. The Department have been contacted about it on many occasions.

The Deputy should have done something about the problem when she was in Government.

If the Deputies give me details of cases they feel should be investigated further I will look into them.

Has the Minister costed the localising of payments in Wexford?

That is a separate question.