Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018

Vol. 977 No. 3

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Illness Benefit Reform

Willie O'Dea


40. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the position in regard to the issue of medical certificates for illness benefit; the number of doctors who have accepted the new forms; the number still using the old certificates; if doctors who continue to operate with the old certificate since the changes were introduced have been compensated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53328/18]

This question relates to a unilateral decision by the Department to change the certification system for illness benefit without any notification or advanced consultation. Will the Minister indicate if the situation has settled down and if the new system is operating seamlessly?

I thank the Deputy for his question. Illness benefit is a scheme under which people who are unable to work due to illness or injury are entitled to receive a weekly payment from the Social Insurance Fund. The basic rate of payment for a single person is €198 per week. Entitlement to the payment, which may be made for up to two years, is contingent on a person's social insurance record and certification by a general practitioner, GP, as being unfit for work.

In regard to certification, it is important to point out that when the new certification form was introduced, the Department agreed that GPs could continue to use their existing stock of old forms until it was exhausted.  While it is not possible to provide a breakdown on the number of GPs using the new forms, I can say that over 70% of the circa 9,000 certificates and claims received each day are in the new format. Currently, payments are made to GPs in respect of the old and new version of the form.

As the Deputy will know, issues have arisen in regard to the scheme over recent months and my Department has been working hard to resolve these issues and to ensure that claims are processed and paid promptly. We have made good progress in this regard, with payment levels maintained at the expected norm of in excess of 50,000 customers paid each week for almost the past two months.

Again, I reassure the Deputy that my Department has had a long and positive partnership with GPs over many years and is committed to maintaining good working relationships with our GP partners. In this regard, I confirm that discussions with GP representatives with respect to a move from paper to e-certification have just concluded successfully. I thank the GPs for their engagement. I expect e-certification to be introduced in the first half of next year. As acknowledged and accepted by the GPs, and hopefully will be acknowledged by those in receipt of illness benefit, this will significantly improve the scheme and make it much more efficient.

I thank the Minister for her response but the information I am getting contradicts it to some extent. The Minister said that GPs could continue to use the old forms until such time as stock was exhausted. The information available to me is such that photocopies of certificates are being submitted, which means GPs continued to use the old forms when stock ran out and they have been paid in respect of those photocopied forms. I have also been informed that some GPs who used the new forms have not been paid and, remarkably, that some GPs have been paid for services they did not perform. I have evidence of one cohort of GPs who received a letter of thanks from the Department for operating the new system despite the fact that they are not using it. There appears to be some confusion. Is the Minister sure that 70% of GPs are using the new forms?

I am absolutely sure that 70% or in excess of 9,000 certificates coming into the Department every day are the new forms. I am also absolutely sure that we made it perfectly clear when we issued the circular to GPs on 6 August that we would pay for the new forms but we would also continue to pay in respect of the old forms until such time as all stock of the old forms in our GP offices and clinics was exhausted. Photocopies do not constitute an old form. We would have an issue paying people who submit photocopies of old forms because the Comptroller and Auditor General would not allow us to do so.

Photocopies do not have the required processes and protocols that we had in the old system. They are not an original form and are not, therefore, deemed eligible by the Department. The Department receives more than 9,000 new forms each day. Some general practitioners who have a stock of the old forms are still using them and we will continue to pay them. GPs are paid quarterly. I am not sure who is suggesting to the Deputy they are being paid for work they have not carried out. If the Deputy has any names, I would be very happy to follow up on the issue. We pay GPs four times a year. The last quarterly payment was made in November.

All GPs got the same letter. We did not send a letter to specifically thank those who moved to the new forms and exclude those who continued to use the existing stock of forms. All GPs were thanked for their co-operation in moving to a new system which it is hoped will provide better efficiencies for them and even greater efficiencies for recipients of illness benefit.

Can the Minister confirm that nobody who used a photocopied form has been paid? Is she aware of a survey done by the national GP forum in recent weeks that indicated that 70% of GPs surveyed were still using the old forms or photocopies? Is she also aware there are a number of legal cases pending against the Department in respect of this matter? I am told there are at least five such cases.

I am absolutely confident in confirming to the Deputy that we have not and will not pay any GP who has sent in certificates with photocopies. I am not aware of a survey conducted by the national GP forum but I am keen to read it. I know the statistics and they show that 9,000 certificates come in every day on new forms. They are the stock we are replenishing. We are not replenishing the old forms. I am also aware of the very successful conclusion of lengthy deliberations with the Irish Medical Organisation in recent months. I know the IMO has welcomed the position we agreed last week and I very much welcome its co-operation and look forward to working with it in the future.

I am not aware of legal cases. If there are some, we will take them in the spirit in which they are brought.

JobPath Programme

John Brady


41. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on the costs associated with the JobPath scheme since its introduction; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53390/18]

After several years of asking for the costs associated with JobPath, Turas Nua and Seetec and constantly being told that because of commercial sensitivity the figures could not be released, the figures were eventually given to the Committee of Public Accounts. Do these costs represent value for money? Will the Minister comment on the overall costs?

JobPath is a case management service that provides employment counselling and advice to long-term unemployed jobseekers with a view to improving their prospects of securing sustained employment. It complements the case management services already provided by the Department's staff via Intreo and other contracted providers such as the local employment service. JobPath operates on a payment by results basis with expenditure determined by the number of jobseekers in respect of whom a personal progression plan is prepared and subsequently, and perhaps more importantly, the number of those who secure and sustain employment. All the set-up and operating costs are borne by the service providers. The Department only incurs expenditure when a customer starts his or her engagement with the service, at which point the service provider may submit a claim for a registration fee. No further expenditure is incurred unless the client secures full-time employment for a sustained period of initially not less than 13 weeks and which results in the closure of their jobseeker's allowance claim. Notwithstanding that, and to protect the interests of the State, the fees paid to the service providers are subject to downward adjustment only based on the level of employment in the wider economy. A discount was applied to all fees payable in 2017 and 2018 and it is expected the same discount will be applied in 2019.

The provision of essential case managed employment services to long-term unemployed jobseekers costs money regardless of how, or through which medium, those services are provided. The total average cost per jobseeker using the service to date is €780. This cost is well below the average cost incurred in other similar contracted services in the State.

In terms of outcomes, the first report on the econometric evaluation of JobPath will be issued at the end of January. Preliminary results from the evaluation indicate the overall impact has been positive, particularly for those with the greatest duration of unemployment. The data confirm internal data published by the Department and also reflect the positive customer feedback from independent customer satisfaction research we undertook last year. Taking the outcomes with the lower average cost, I am satisfied that JobPath is delivering value for money.

The Minister referred to the low cost of operating the scheme. We know €149 million has been given to private companies, Seetec and Turas Nua, since 2015 and 195,000 people have been referred. For each one of those people, an initial registration fee of €311 was paid to one or other of these two companies. I do not consider that value for money. We know that over 15,000 people have been referred a second time and the registration fee has been paid a second time. I do not consider that value for money. It is a double payment. The figures say it all. A total of 17,100 people have been in sustained employment for 52 weeks or more. I do not see how, having spent €149 million, the Minister can say this is value for money. I will ask the question again. It is like Groundhog Day with the Minister. She tries to justify the huge expense and we know the scheme is simply not working. Can she stand over what she says is value for money? The people, including me, do not think so.

It is interesting that Sinn Féin knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing. I reiterate that the average cost to the State for the tens of thousands of people who have gone through JobPath is €780 per person. That is the average payment. The average cost per person for other contracted services we use is significantly higher and there is never a peep out of the Deputy about it. More important, the average cost to the State of a person staying on the live register - apart from the psychological, emotional and well-being cost to that individual - is more than €12,000. The Deputy is asking me to take issue with an average cost of €780 to get somebody back into full-time sustained employment rather than leave that person on the live register. Is that what he is asking me? If so, we will continue to be at odds on this matter.

There is evidence that Turas Nua and Seetec are hounding people who find employment by themselves and trying to claim credit for it so they can get the sustainment payments. That needs to be looked at. When JobPath was first rolled out it was said it was to assist people to secure and sustain full-time employment or self-employment. I received an interesting response from the Minister and the Department yesterday which stated some 43,851 people have commenced employment either on a full-time or part-time basis. We know many people who are employed part-time are referred to JobPath and are hounded to get full-time employment. As the Minister has stated time and again, the issue of underemployment needs to be addressed, yet we are getting responses saying people are ending up in part-time employment. How many of the 43,851 people who have secured some type of employment have ended up in part-time employment? We know there are many people engaged in part-time employment or working as teachers, for example, who because of the nature of their contracts are not permanent and are being hounded by Turas Nua and Seetec. If the Minister sees people ending up in part-time employment as a success, it contradicts the reasons for setting up the scheme.

I remind the Deputy that JobPath is a case management service that provides unemployed and underemployed people with advice and long-term employment assistance to help them improve their prospects of securing full-time work. That is it in a nutshell. There is no hounding or harassing people after they find full-time work in order to get some other further payment. It is simple. It is case-managed and involves an individual expert helping people who are long-term unemployed and have not been lucky enough to find a job for 12 months or more. All the service does is help those people, very successfully, to find long-term, full-time employment. That includes people who are underemployed, namely, those who present on the live register for the days they are not working and indicate that they want to work full-time.

Again, if Deputy Brady has a problem with that, we are going to disagree. The service was established because hundreds of thousands of people were unemployed in this country in 2008 and 2009. Thankfully, we now have the lowest level of unemployment since 2008. The recovery that this country has experienced in recent years is nothing short of a miracle and we were lucky insofar as it was a jobs-led recovery. JobPath has genuinely helped tens of thousands of people back into work which is why Sinn Féin has a problem with it.

Mortgage Arrears Information and Advice Service

Willie O'Dea


42. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if provision has been made for a dedicated mortgage advice system for MABS; the number of mortgage advisers this will include; when they are due to take up contracts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53329/18]

My question relates to the dedicated mortgage advisers who have been allocated to MABS to assist people who are struggling with debt, particularly related to their family homes. I ask the Minister to provide details on the status of that programme, the numbers of advisers involved and the type of contract they have.

I thank the Deputy for his question as it gives me a welcome opportunity to put the status of this service on the record of the House. The dedicated mortgage arrears advice service which operates across the MABS network was established in 2015 as part of the Government's response to providing supports to hundreds of thousands of mortgage holders who were in arrears at that time. The service aims to ensure that borrowers in mortgage arrears have access to information on the range of supports and options available to them and, where required, negotiates with lenders on their behalf. The service operates across the MABS network with a team of 27 advisers, five relief advisers and support staff. To date, it has helped over 6,000 borrowers with mortgage arrears issues.

Since its inception, the dedicated mortgage arrears service has become an integral part of the Abhaile service, which provides access for people who are insolvent and in mortgage arrears to independent financial and-or legal advice and assistance under a voucher scheme accessed through MABS. I am acutely aware of the good work being done by the dedicated mortgage arrears service and am determined that the service will continue in line with the other services provided under Abhaile, which are set to run until 2019. If, at the end of next year, we find that there are people who are still in need, I hope the Deputy will support me in my efforts to continue the service into the future, if this Government is still in situ. I have secured the money required for next year. The overall allocation is €2.5 million, which will cover the cost of the service to the end of 2019. We should have a conversation about this in the middle or the third quarter of next year so that we can determine how many people still have unresolved mortgage issues.

Abhaile is under the joint remit of my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality.

I appreciate the work the advisers are doing. They are doing tremendous work and I compliment them on that. However, there is a difficulty here. The Minister said that €2.5 million has been allocated and I presume that sum has been allocated to the Citizen's Information Board to pay the dedicated mortgage advisers. However, the advisers' contracts have only been extended until 15 February 2019, even though the sum of €2.5 million covers them for the full year. As a result, they have decided not to take on any new clients from 1 January because their position is uncertain, given that their contracts end on 15 February.

The Minister will be aware that as property values increase and vulture funds purchase more domestic loans, the pressure for repossessions will increase. In that context, MABS has a vital role to play. The situation cannot continue whereby dedicated mortgage advisers who are uncertain about their status are not willing to take on new clients as and from 1 January 2019. I do not need to remind the Minister or the House of recent events in Roscommon.

The Deputy is correct in saying that the current contract runs out on 15 February. However, the service is well aware that I am bringing a report on Abhaile to Cabinet in the first or second week in January with a request to extend the service. A memorandum will be brought to Government seeking an extension of the service to the end of 2019. I am particularly proud of the staff of Abhaile and MABS who look after people. The debt cycle is changing. The people who were presenting ten years ago, five years ago and those presenting today are all presenting with different types of debt and MABS has always responded to them equally.

Abhaile was a direct response to the mortgage arrears difficulties being faced by tens of thousands of people. The number of people in difficulty is reducing and 116,000 who were in mortgage arrears have had a solution provided to them that is in line with what they can afford. However, there is still a significant number of people in difficulty who can freely avail of the services of MABS and Abhaile.

The foreign institutions to which Deputy O'Dea just referred which, in many cases, have bought debt from what we call our pillar banks are far easier to deal with and are far quicker to do deals in order to secure debt and keep people in their homes.

I accept that the Minister is to recommend to Cabinet that Government authorises the continuation of the contract until the end of 2019. I ask her to do so immediately because there is an element of uncertainty here which has resulted in mortgage advisers deciding not to take on any new clients from 1 January. This is an undesirable situation. It is also my understanding that because many of these advisers have mortgages themselves and must pay their way, some of them are looking to the private sector for employment because of the uncertainty of their position. Would it be possible for the Minister to resolve this issue this side of Christmas?

That is not possible because the last Cabinet meeting before Christmas took place yesterday. The information that Deputy O'Dea brings to the House is news to me and I can guarantee that it is also news to the regional boards of MABS. We are certainly not refusing new clients or putting anyone's job or contract with Abhaile at risk. The service is fully aware that it has a full budget for 2019. The service providers do not have a contract beyond 15 February but they can be assured that I will bring a memo to Cabinet and agree an extension of that contract in the first two weeks of January. There is no threat whatsoever. There is no instability in the service that is being provided and there is certainly no lack of dedication on the part of those who are providing it.

They are not taking on any new clients from 1 January.

Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times

Bríd Smith


43. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the action she plans to take to deal with backlogs in applications for social welfare schemes, including carer's allowance, and appeals to decisions taken by her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53444/18]

I ask the Minister to outline to the House the action being taken by her Department to deal with backlogs of applications and appeals for social protection schemes, including carer's allowance and domiciliary care allowance. I have information on backlogs in the Department that was given to another Deputy in June of this year and my question follows on from that.

I thank Deputy Bríd Smith for her question. My Department is committed to providing a quality service to those who submit applications for different schemes. This includes ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible. Where any scheme experiences delays, all possible steps are taken to improve processing times. This is not a static or once-a-year process. We continuously assess all schemes throughout the year and, where necessary and possible, we assign additional resources to areas experiencing delays. We continuously review our business processes to ensure the efficient processing of applications. In the case of carer’s allowance, additional staff were reassigned to that area in October and November and claim processing times are improving. This is against a background of 3,500 new applications having been received in October and November. The goalposts are consistently moving but we are constantly monitoring the situation. Processing times now stand at 16 weeks, which is an improvement on the 17 week processing times we had in October. This improvement is a direct result of us putting more men and women into that particular section. However, Deputy Bríd Smith is right about delays. We have a target of a 12 week turnaround and we are a long way from reaching it. A number of new appeals officers have joined the appeals office in the past 18 months to replace experienced staff who have retired. Given the complexity of the appeals process, it takes some time for new staff to be trained up, to develop expertise in how the process works and to deal with the files as quickly as we would expect. The fact that they were in training for the last year and developing that expertise led to an extension of the average processing time for appeals.

The desire to process appeals quickly has to be balanced with the competing demand to ensure that decisions are consistent, of the highest quality and made in accordance with the legislative provisions and the general principles of fair procedures and natural justice. The chief appeals officer has advised me that appeal processing times continue to be a priority for her office and that she expects them to improve as recently appointed staff develop the necessary experience and expertise to determine appeal decisions to the standard required.

Deputies across this House will tell the Minister of numerous constituents who have been waiting for months for a decision on an appeal.

Other Deputies and I can tell the Minister of numerous clients who wait for months for decisions on appeals. The high level of initial refusals that are then forced to go into appeal is interesting. It is also interesting that the Department never informed people in writing that they can have a review of their case. It informed them that they have 21 days to appeal and there is a high level of appeals because there is a huge number of initial refusals. The initial wait to have the application either accepted or refused is well out of kilter with the desired target. It could be up to 16 or 17 weeks and there is the same wait again on appeal. People wait for months for their carers to be approved. It is ironic that this is for a cohort of people who are saving the State billions of euro by doing that care work at home. We discussed this already. Another cohort of people in the appeals process are those I referred to earlier. The number penalised on JobPath in 2016 was 63 and it soared in 2018 to 5,681. They are penalised and then they appeal. It is not the other way around. There is a problem with backlogs of appeal.

I call the Minister.

It may sound like figures but those are people suffering from financial hardship.

Take just the one minute, please, Minister.

I will. I do not know where Deputy Smith is getting her figures from. Only 1% of our applications are appealed. By any standard, that is not a huge amount. The Deputy claims that huge amounts of people are refused carers. The only people who are refused carers are those who do not reach the qualifications on the carer's application form. We do not willy-nilly say we will refuse people today and have a target of ten people to refuse next week. The only people who are refused carer's allowance are those who do not produce enough evidence to show that they reach the qualifying targets. Anybody and everybody can have their application reviewed or appealed if it is refused, and can have their appeal reviewed or their appeal appealed. The process is exhaustive. Contrary to some of the commentary here, we ensure we do everything to recognise the value of care. We go over and above to make sure that we help people who have not quite reached the qualifications. We are here to help to make sure that people get what they are entitled to get. It is not a lottery of trying to refuse people so that we reach certain numbers. Everybody who applies for any scheme gets what they are entitled to. If they have not provided full information to us, then we go out of our way with reviews, appeals and appeals of appeals to give them every opportunity-----

-----to provide the information that will give a satisfactory outcome for whatever scheme they are on.

Sorry, Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I know it is not in the question-----

We are not making progress this morning.

-----but the Deputy raised JobPath. The only people who are charged a penalty relating to JobPath are those who do not show up and engage with the programme that they have signed up for. In exactly the same way, anybody who engages with the live register through our Intreo offices who does not show up and present himself or herself as being available for work does not qualify for this scheme. One has to be on the live register-----

I ask for some co-operation, please. I call Deputy Smith.

-----and available freely for work full-time to satisfy the criteria.

The Minister's angry tone at my questions indicates a certain defensiveness. My point about the jobseekers is the rate at which penalties are soaring, from 63 on JobPath in 2015 to 5,681 in 2018. I get my figures from the Minister's Department. The figure for 2017 for the number of disallowed carer's applications is 8,599. On appeal, 1,270 were allowed. That is quite high. It means that many people are initially refused and then forced to wait months for the appeal to come through. There are people sitting at home today who are still waiting for an answer. They are hurtling towards Christmas, suffering from financial hardship because of that. What action does the Minister plan to take to deal with the backlog of appeals and applications in the system? The answers the Minister gave in June to another Deputy were about trying to get more staff in, new targets that she was setting to be achieved and a redesigned application form. We are now in December and the Minister has failed to achieve those targets.

It is all about perspective. Somebody has only failed when he or she has stopped or given up. The Department will never stop or give up looking after the people who are most in need. To put it in context, there are currently 78,681 people who applied for carer's benefit last year. Fewer than 1,000 were refused on appeal. That is a tiny number by anybody's standards. There is a marked difference between the answer to the Deputy and the one in June, though I do not know who I gave that answer to in June. The question asked in June is the same question that the Deputy is asking me now except that we have recruited the extra staff that I said we would recruit in June. We have the new carer's application form that I said we were designing in co-operation with the Care Alliance and Family Carers Ireland that is ready to go live, with our general practitioners and medical assessment, for applicants for and recipients of carer's allowance from next year. All of the advances we said we would do have been done and the carer's application time is coming down. It was 18 weeks at the beginning of this year. It went to 17 weeks in the middle of the year and is thankfully now 16 weeks. I am sorry if the Deputy does not like my tone but it is nowhere close to the 12 weeks-----

I do not mind what tone the Minister uses.

We will move on. I have given more than ample time.

-----which is why we will keep working to improve the service, not only the applications but the appeals process.

Illness Benefit Payments

Thomas Pringle


44. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of issues which resulted in delayed payments of illness benefit; if compensation will be provided to those that experienced financial losses as a result; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53267/18]

This is a follow-up question from a Topical Issue debate that we had in November about delays and problems for people in receipt of illness benefit in getting paid through the Minister's Department. That is ongoing many months later and we are in the jaws of Christmas. What is happening with this?

The Department transferred administration of the illness benefit scheme to our new core business objects IT platform in August 2018. Although the system worked effectively for over 80% of illness benefit customers, significant difficulties arose following implementation for a large number of recipients. My Department took three main steps to resolve the issues impacting on payments. It deployed additional resources to process work and respond to inquiries. It developed some new system processes that addressed the payment gap issues and to ensure a faster flow-through of payments. It continued to review the design rules in the system to afford greater flexibility in processing of claims and certificates. As a consequence of the steps just described, people who are due a payment and whose certificates and claims are in order are thankfully receiving their full payment entitlements. In excess of 50,000 payments are made every week, which is the same number that we would have had before we made the changes on 6 August.

Telephone helpline and call handling performance has also been addressed and is now back to normal levels. The staff in the illness benefit section are particularly pleased about that. People who are due a payment and whose certificates and claims are in order now receive their payment entitlement promptly. In stating this, it is important, since I am sure Deputies will know of various instances where people are still not receiving payment, to say that there are always cases where people do not receive what they might expect to get in a specific week. That is true today for a variety of reasons but it also existed prior to 6 August when we moved to the new system. We will endeavour to keep those to a minimum but it is inevitable that some errors will be made in illness benefits, given that we have over 9,000 transactions per day. Human beings receive those transactions and work on them every day.

I do not know where the Minister is getting her information from. Maybe her Department is not telling her the full story. I have a litany in my office of people who have had problems and who are constantly getting payments, though they have told the illness benefit section that they are not required since they are back at work. Some people have never been paid for the times they have been off. Some people were off for a couple of weeks in August and still have not been paid for it. Talking to other Deputies, I hear a litany of complaints from them. One person who was off sick for two weeks in August, only just this week, after going in five or six times himself to tell the Department that he is back at work and not entitled to the money, is still being sent money. It cancelled it and then sent him a cheque for €1,600 after him cancelling it again. He had to go to a Deputy to get it cancelled the second time. Other people are getting money on haphazard days of the week. They have no way of planning and cannot do anything about it. They might get €200 this week and €99 next week. There is a litany of such issues and any Deputy in this House will have the same problems. I do not know where the Minister is getting the information from. The Department is obviously telling her the good story, which is fair enough, but there is another side which the Minister needs to look at.

I tell the Deputy again that I can only deal in the facts. I have received a daily report on illness benefit since the proverbial hit the fan during the summer. It was an incredibly stressful time for the thousands affected in exactly the manner the Deputy has just described. I apologise sincerely again to all those recipients who were mucked around on foot of our attempt to change things to make them more efficient. It went on for far too long and the goalposts kept moving. When we fixed a problem, we created another one. I acknowledge and accept completely that it was not handled well. At the time, my office and our social welfare offices were inundated. There was no day on which I did not have a queue of Deputies approaching me with lists of individuals in their constituencies who were receiving services like the one Deputy Pringle has just described. Since we made the changes a number of weeks ago, we have gone back to reflecting on the fact that we received 9,000 applications every day which is why people get paid every day. We do not do a payment run on a Friday and pay 55,000 people. People get paid on the day they present for services. They are paid on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It may be different every week for a person who presents his or her certificate on a different day every week. That is how the system is run. I have not had the lists and queues of people outside my door.

I call Deputy Pringle.

Calls to our helpline are back down to normal levels. People have all but ceased to send me individual representations from constituencies.

Please, Minister. We are making no progress today.

If Deputy Pringle has people who are still distressed, I ask him to give me the details and I will resolve matters immediately.

There are other Members. I call Deputy Pringle.

We have a litany of people who are distressed. That is the problem. This is still going on. We do not want to be dealing with this every day in our office when we could be doing much more useful work. This is down to mistakes the Minister's Department made in the changeover in the system. We are only getting a percentage of the people involved. While we do not, admittedly, get the people who are happy, people with problems are still coming to us. As such, it must still be happening. It is not acceptable to say it is the normal percentage of people who will never be happy because we did not have this before the system was changed. If it was normal, it would have been going on all the time. These people need timely, prompt decisions so that they can manage, which they cannot do at the moment. The length of time it is taking to make decisions is causing major harm to people. The Department must recognise that.

I do not mean to split hairs or fight with the Deputy, but anyone who comes to me with an issue and a personal public service number will see that resolved on the same day. I appeal to the Deputy that if there are people living in Donegal who feel they are still experiencing difficulties and he provides me with their personal public service numbers, I will have the matters resolved today. I am not splitting hairs with the Deputy when I say the statistics speak for themselves. We receive 9,000 applications every day and we pay in excess of 50,000 claimants every week. It is nowhere close to where we were when we were in the middle of the wars, trying to make the system more efficient and cocking up in the months of August, September and October. However, the system is working now. Any system receiving a volume of 9,000 applications every day will experience human or IT error. It is nothing close to what it was during the previous period and it is being resolved. If the Deputy wants to provide the personal public service numbers of people in his constituency experiencing difficulties, I will have them resolved today.