Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Ceisteanna (69)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

117 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the frequency with which inspectors dealing with oral hearings on social welfare appeals meet; the number of such inspectors dealing with oral hearing appeals; the number of days per week they work; the length of time in advance their schedules of work are laid out; if they remain in the one area until all pending appeals are dealt with; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7861/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

I assume the Deputy's question relates to the work of social welfare appeals officers. The chief appeals officer from time to time convenes meetings of appeals officers for the purpose of discussing matters relating to the discharge of their functions, particularly consistency in the application of the statutory provisions. In addition, frequent informal meetings are held to discuss issues arising from appeals and appreciation of the requirements and implications of changing legislation.

There are 18 appeals officers serving in the appeals office and one vacancy arising from a recent retirement. When allowance is made for work sharing, this represents a full-time equivalent of 16.5 officers. Normally, all appeals officers are assigned to oral hearings once their training period is completed.

The full-time officers work normal Civil Service hours over a five day week while the work sharers vary between 50% and 80% of the full-time norm. Their work involves the vetting of cases to determine which can be decided summarily and which should be referred for oral hearings, presiding at oral hearings, the completion of reports on appeals recently determined and preparation for hearings scheduled to take place on their next circuit. An appeals officer normally spends one week out of every three hearing appeals on one of the eight circuits encompassing some 70 locations outside the Dublin area. When an officer returns from a week on circuit the cases for his or her next week will normally have been selected. In any given week there are approximately six appeals officers assigned to circuit work. While not on circuit appeals, officers are either holding hearings in Dublin or carrying out the other duties referred to previously.

The selection of the circuits to be visited in any given week is based on the numbers of appeals on hand. In general, those who are waiting longest can expect to be scheduled for hearing when next an appeals officer is in the area. A small number of cases are given special priority where exceptional circumstances arise. However, some cases of long standing may not be in a position to proceed because, for example, the proposed date does not suit the appellant or his or her representative. It would seldom be possible for an appeals officer to dispose of all appeals listed for hearing in the course of a visit to a region.