There are serious issues with the new illness benefit system. I cannot be the only Member contacted weekly about illness benefit claims or payments as it has been going on for several months. The issue first came to the fore in my office last August with dozens of complaints from ill and vulnerable people genuinely upset by the disruption to their payments with no money suddenly coming into their accounts. It was a case of a little bit here and none there, all with no warning from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Last month, we learned of a 14-fold increase in complaints relating to illness benefit in 2018, accounting for 40% of all complaints made to the Department. This is hardly surprising when people were left for weeks with no payment and referred to the community welfare service. Sick people or people in recovery were left without an income. The illness benefit section in the Department did not answer phones or reply to messages. Staff in my office were unable to contact the Department and there are still issues with this. On 7 January, I received email responses from the illness benefit section to representations made in mid-October, four months later. These are issues involving sick and vulnerable people who are only looking for their own money back.
A lady contacted my office who had to take bed rest due to severe pregnancy complications and was receiving illness benefit. She had €66 for two weeks and then nothing for the following two weeks. With no medical card, she had no money for vital medication for her unborn baby. She also missed a mortgage payment.
Another person undergoing chemotherapy with radiation to follow did not get any payment for three weeks. The Department sent the individual letters stating their claim had been selected for review. This was their fourth review in a matter of months and the individual in question had returned documentation multiple times. This is obviously a distressing situation. The person involved, a cancer sufferer, told me that it was as if the Department did not believe they were sick.
I want to raise one particular case today, one of the worst I have ever seen. I must be thorough about it and I plead the Minister of State’s patience because the people involved have none left. It involves an illness claim which started last September and is still an absolute mess, to say the least. I have more than a dozen letters received by the applicant from 7 November 2018 to 9 January 2019 but not one of them is correct. I also have a record of eight hours of telephone calls made by the applicant’s spouse to the Department over the two-month period. Contact was also made through my office. The local community welfare office was involved and I thank those officials for their help.
The claim started on 19 September 2018. On 7 November, a letter issued to the applicant awarding them illness benefit from 19 September for €361.20. My office phoned the Department straight away because this was incorrect as the payment did not include provision for a second dependent child. A letter on 14 November sought further information in this regard which was forwarded. On 15 November, the claimant received their first payment to their bank account of €739.20. On the same day, they received a letter from the Department awarding them a rate of €393. On 27 November, they got a payment of €485. On 5 December, they received two letters, one awarding them a rate of payment of €361.20 and the other of €345.30. Two days later, on 7 December, another letter was received, this time awarding them a rate of €198.00. This rate was reiterated in another letter the following week on 12 December. On 17 December, a payment of €870.85 was issued. On 20 December, there was a payment of €690.60. On 4 January, there was no payment.
On 7 January, two letters were received from the illness benefit section, both missing what can only be the first page of correspondence. All that was in these envelopes was a back page with the standard clause of “if you are not satisfied with this decision, etc, etc, please reply within 21 days”. On 9 January, this person’s payment was €35.65. On that same day, 9 January, they received a letter awarding them €361.20. The next day, on 10 January, two payments to their bank account were made of €2.65 and €392.15. On 17 January, a payment was made of €229.80. On 24 January, a payment was made of €191.50. On 4 February, a payment was made of €427.10.
On 7 February, there was a payment of €195.33 which should have been €229.80.