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Social Welfare Benefits.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 3 February 2009

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Ceisteanna (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20)

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

106 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the processing time it takes for each individual social welfare office to deal with a claim for jobseeker’s benefit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3300/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brian Hayes

Ceist:

107 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the measures that have been put in place by her Department to deal with the increased number of people applying for unemployment assistance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3282/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Tom Sheahan

Ceist:

108 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of individuals on a national basis and by local social welfare office waiting for their application in respect of jobseeker’s allowance to be processed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3321/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

109 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the average time it takes to process a claim in respect of jobseeker’s allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3292/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

113 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the 115 people, promised in December 2008, have been fully deployed to social welfare offices to deal with the rising number of social welfare applicants; if they have been fully trained; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3277/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

121 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the processing time it takes for each individual social welfare office to deal with a claim for jobseeker’s allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3305/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

123 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the basis on which staff allocations to social welfare offices are being made; and the reason there continues to be a wide variation in the processing times for jobseeker payments among different offices. [3229/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

128 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the average time it takes to process a claim for jobseeker’s benefit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3296/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

134 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her target date for the full deployment of the extra 115 staff promised for local social welfare offices. [3222/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

135 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of individuals on a national basis and by local social welfare office waiting for their application for jobseeker’s benefit to be processed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3313/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

153 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps being taken to reduce the waiting times for people seeking to access the jobseeker’s allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3197/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe McHugh

Ceist:

315 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the 115 staff who were committed to welfare exchanges in view of the increased workload will be allocated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2980/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

336 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has proposals or plans to expedite procedures in order to enable more prompt payment of unemployment benefits or allowances thereby minimising hardship to those who find themselves unemployed or otherwise dependent on a social welfare payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3530/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (30 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106 to 109, inclusive, 113, 121, 123, 128, 134, 135, 153, 315 and 336 together.

The average processing times for claims processed in December was two weeks for jobseeker's benefit and five weeks for jobseeker's allowance. That is the average nationally but there are fluctuations between offices. Processing times can vary from office to office for a number of reasons, including the extent of the increased number of claims, the number of staff vacancies, the duration of such vacancies and the turnover of staff in the office, which impacts on the overall level of experience in the office. I am making a table available, Table 1, showing the processing times in weeks at every local office for claims decided in December, the latest month for which such figures are available.

Table 1 — Claim processing time in weeks for claims decided in December 2008

JB

JA

Achill

0.00

0.09

Apollo House

2.54

4.46

Ardee

1.93

4.54

Arklow

3.62

6.37

Athlone

2.01

5.60

Athy

4.18

5.16

Balbriggan

1.79

5.32

Ballina

1.83

5.04

Ballinasloe

1.19

3.68

Ballinrobe

1.76

9.31

Ballybofey

0.86

2.37

Ballyconnell

1.59

10.90

Ballyfermot

1.82

4.87

Ballymun

1.21

3.46

Ballyshannon

0.90

2.14

Baltinglass

3.01

6.02

Bandon

3.83

10.23

Bantry

0.77

4.04

Bantry Co

0.77

5.64

Belmullet

2.08

2.44

Birr

1.26

6.05

Bishop Square

3.41

5.94

Blanchardstown

2.46

6.80

Boyle

3.94

7.22

Bray

1.88

3.83

Buncrana

2.34

4.93

Cahir

1.26

1.63

Cahirciveen

2.25

4.65

Carlow

2.63

7.01

Carrickmacross

1.73

4.81

Carrick-On-Shannon

0.63

2.57

Carrick-On-Suir

1.88

5.98

Carrigaline

1.27

4.43

Cashel

1.41

3.02

Castlebar

1.08

2.15

Castleblayney

2.17

3.84

Castlepollard

2.33

5.78

Castlerea

1.56

6.05

Cavan

2.10

6.58

Claremorris

2.06

6.64

Clifden

0.67

1.84

Clonakilty

3.08

10.42

Clondalkin

1.97

3.75

Clones

1.77

3.26

Clonmel

1.09

2.47

Cobh

0.84

1.36

Coolock Lo

1.59

2.70

Cork

3.31

7.40

Dingle

1.69

2.56

Donegal

1.09

1.38

Drogheda

1.87

7.90

Dundalk

1.35

3.43

Dunfanaghy

0.67

1.41

Dungarvan

2.26

3.17

Dungloe

0.78

1.15

Dun Laoghaire

1.88

5.08

Edenderry

1.76

8.48

Ennis

1.39

2.54

Enniscorthy

1.56

5.33

Ennistymon

1.75

4.00

Fermoy

2.01

3.20

Finglas

1.20

2.62

Galway

2.56

6.75

Gorey

2.31

4.16

Gort

2.12

4.68

Kells

1.61

10.64

Kenmare

1.72

2.34

Kilbarrack

1.98

3.46

Kilkenny

1.19

4.66

Killarney

1.80

2.98

Killorglin

1.42

4.72

Killybegs

0.87

1.73

Kilmallock

1.46

2.76

Kilrush

1.15

2.67

Kinsale

3.53

7.26

Letterkenny

1.81

4.01

Limerick

2.38

5.43

Listowel

2.99

5.60

Longford

2.98

5.49

Loughrea

2.07

7.93

Macroom

2.64

4.22

Mallow Branch Office

1.77

4.61

Manorhamilton

0.88

0.55

Maynooth

2.77

9.06

Midleton

3.25

8.40

Monaghan

2.03

3.59

Muine Bheag

3.44

9.70

Mullingar

2.62

5.24

Navan

2.25

11.56

Navan Road

1.74

4.90

Nenagh

1.03

2.40

Newbridge

3.46

5.43

Newcastle West

1.42

2.13

Newmarket

5.61

5.42

New Ross

1.69

4.54

Nth Cumberland Street

1.56

2.23

Nutgrove

0.92

1.42

Portarlington

1.23

6.34

Portlaoise

2.26

5.61

Rathdowney

2.30

6.22

Roscommon

4.29

5.20

Roscrea

0.91

1.96

Skibbereen

1.13

4.64

Sligo

1.98

3.94

Swinford

1.28

6.43

Swords Lo

1.58

2.02

Tallaght

1.84

1.70

Thomas Street

1.29

1.68

Thomastown

1.99

6.45

Thurles

0.73

1.61

Tipperary

1.35

2.42

Tralee

1.14

2.02

Trim

2.01

11.29

Tuam

3.36

12.73

Tubbercurry

1.00

6.24

Tulla

1.16

2.83

Tullamore Control Office

1.65

6.71

Tullow

4.50

10.03

Waterford

1.79

3.53

Westport

1.61

2.09

Wexford

1.42

3.58

Wicklow

1.74

7.07

Youghal

1.75

5.42

The conditions of entitlement vary between the two jobseeker schemes and involve, among other things, the need to establish the person's social insurance record and to assess their means where appropriate. I am also making available a table (Table 2) showing the number of claims awaiting a decision as at 24 January 2009.

Table 2 – Jobseeker's Claims awaiting a decision 24 January 2009

JB

JA

Achill

8

3

Apollo House

184

174

Ardee

168

191

Arklow

316

257

Athlone

452

281

Athy

263

173

Balbriggan

231

314

Ballina

143

235

Ballinasloe

144

148

Ballinrobe

84

135

Ballybofey

69

141

Ballyconnell

145

140

Ballyfermot

218

244

Ballymun

70

114

Ballyshannon

31

48

Baltinglass

139

101

Bandon

195

187

Bantry

53

81

Bantry Co

18

22

Belmullet

35

36

Birr

191

118

Bishop Square

876

689

Blanchardstown

606

959

Boyle

101

125

Bray

609

364

Buncrana

257

458

Cahir

58

48

Cahirciveen

44

41

Carlow

296

294

Carrickmacross

86

133

Carrick-On-Shannon

84

107

Carrick-On-Suir

72

108

Carrigaline

96

163

Cashel

49

48

Castlebar

69

116

Castleblayney

79

123

Castlepollard

81

193

Castlerea

93

174

Cavan

533

650

Claremorris

76

155

Clifden

29

47

Clonakilty

144

135

Clondalkin

755

639

Clones

15

51

Clonmel

122

121

Cobh

29

37

Coolock LO

190

291

Cork

2302

1958

Dingle

88

39

Donegal

56

37

Drogheda

539

1037

Dundalk

220

455

Dunfanaghy

33

46

Dungarvan

117

107

Dungloe

48

55

Dun Laoghaire

486

672

Edenderry

123

295

Ennis

315

373

Enniscorthy

239

308

Ennistymon

113

111

Fermoy

191

135

Finglas

357

282

Galway

933

1435

Gorey

218

287

Gort

102

153

Kells

152

257

Kenmare

42

35

Kilbarrack

390

266

Kilkenny

386

491

Killarney

273

146

Killorglin

99

75

Killybegs

28

20

Kilmallock

182

96

Kilrush

71

71

Kinsale

107

128

Letterkenny

125

305

Limerick

1506

1315

Listowel

292

120

Longford

561

477

Loughrea

155

276

Macroom

278

84

Mallow Branch Office

289

165

Manorhamilton

32

24

Maynooth

711

513

Midleton

370

269

Monaghan

130

157

Muine Bheag

147

139

Mullingar

227

389

Navan

690

737

Navan Road

258

425

Nenagh

116

85

Newbridge

1148

663

Newcastle West

302

156

Newmarket

464

149

New Ross

174

153

Nth Cumberland Street

278

272

Nutgrove

161

156

Portarlington

116

268

Portlaoise

391

331

Rathdowney

95

82

Roscommon

132

76

Roscrea

41

35

Skibbereen

46

92

Sligo

295

314

Swinford

76

138

Swords LO

189

176

Tallaght

591

520

Thomas Street

108

211

Thomastown

58

78

Thurles

98

88

Tipperary

72

58

Tralee

428

279

Trim

310

343

Tuam

257

352

Tubbercurry

28

29

Tulla

91

47

Tullamore Control Office

261

367

Tullow

153

178

Waterford

574

565

Westport

85

74

Wexford

424

371

Wicklow

148

153

Youghal

118

138

Totals

30,415

31,174

Grand Total

61,589

Staff in social welfare offices have been working extremely hard to process the increasing volume of claims for jobseeker's payments as quickly as possible. Productivity has increased significantly. Nearly 155,000 claims were processed in local offices in the last quarter of 2008, including the one parent family payment. This compares with less than 89,000 in the last quarter of 2007, representing an increase of 74%.

I accept that processing times in some areas are still too long and I would like to assure Deputies that we are doing our best to reduce them. I know that becoming unemployed is a very difficult time in a person's life and that he or she needs to get access to financial and other supports as quickly as possible.

As I outlined in the answer to the first priority question, the Department has taken a number of steps to improve processing times for jobseeker's payments. An additional 31 staff were assigned to 15 local offices following a review of the number of staffing levels in local offices in May and June last year.

Following a further review late last year, it was decided to put an extra 115 staff in place. Some 57 of these have already taken up work, while start dates have been agreed for a further 19 staff over the next two to three weeks. It is expected that all of the posts will be filled by late February. Appropriate training will be given to new staff on their assignment to the local offices.

Four central decisions units are also being set up in Dublin city centre, Sligo, Finglas and Carrick-on-Shannon, each of which will have ten staff.

In addition to this, a further 16 social welfare inspectors are being assigned to various locations throughout the country to do means and other work associated with processing claims for jobseeker's payments. This brings to 202 the number of additional staff being assigned to local offices and claim processing roles.

At the same time, the procedures and processes associated with claims for jobseeker payments are being reviewed and a number of process improvement initiatives are being implemented. For example, the Dundalk initiative involves applicants for jobseeker's payments having their claims taken and decided upon during an appointment with a deciding officer. Some 40% of jobseeker's applications are now being decided upon this way in the Dundalk office. Having been well received by customers, this initiative will be extended to other offices on a phased basis.

The Department's management services unit has responsibility for carrying out staffing assessments for all business areas in the Department, including local offices. The administrative productivity training method of work measurement is used to identify, measure and quantify workloads and to determine staffing requirements for all clerical-administrative work. To determine the number of additional staff required to deal with the increasing live register, exercises based on the template were carried out. These have informed the allocation of existing staff resources to the local offices.

We will continue to keep staffing under review to ensure that people who find themselves in the difficult situation of losing their jobs can have their applications processed as quickly as possible.

It needs more than a review.

The Minister's answer does nothing to address the original priority question, which was why one can get looked after in a matter of ten days in Ballymun, but elsewhere in the country it could take 11 weeks. Before Christmas, I asked the Minister why, knowing that a contract was up with the local provider in Balbriggan, no provision was made for people to claim unemployment benefit when that contract ended. People are being sent to Gardiner Street and Coolock for welfare. Using the citizens advice bureaux as a temporary measure is not delivering for the people of Balbriggan. I might remind the Minister that Balbriggan is a town of 25,000 people, which is strategically designated for growth. I just do not understand it.

In Swords, people must queue in the rain outside a portakabin to claim unemployment benefit. The Minister is not providing for those people and she does not seem to have any plans. She is aware of these situations months in advance yet here we are listening to waffle about what might be happening around the country.

The Deputy knows about waffle.

Putting more than 200 new staff in place is not waffle.

They are not in place.

These are important people who are ensuring that claims are dealt with as speedily as possible.

They are not dealing with claims. Those are aspirations.

We have also identified priority areas, including Balbriggan, for the Office of Public Works which acquires premises on our behalf. That will ensure that premises can be made available.

There are empty offices all over the place. This is nonsense.

The OPW is actively working on our behalf to ensure not only that we will have staff, but also that we will have facilities to deal with people with the dignity and courtesy they deserve.

(Interruptions).

The House should be silent for Deputy Shortall's question.

In her reply, the Minister made no reference whatsoever to what is happening in branch offices. That is where the longest waiting times are, whether for unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance. It is all very well talking about having extra staff at local offices but that will do nothing to improve the situation in branch offices. What does the Minister intend to do in order to reduce waiting times to a reasonable period?

The Deputy is correct in saying that of the eight most difficult waiting times in offices, seven are in branch offices. The reason for that, however, is because the decisions are made in the parent office and extra staffing is going into those parent offices.

The Taoiseach is getting a pay cut.

Can the Minister explain why she has allowed the processing application time to take over ten weeks in some cases? Given that everybody — perhaps with the exception of the Government — knew that massive unemployment was coming down the line, with significant additional numbers applying for the jobseeker's allowance, how did it get to this state with such lengthy waiting lists?

Whereas I accept there are some offices — just eight in total, I think — where there are quite long waiting times of about ten weeks, in very many other offices the process takes just over a week or maybe two weeks.

It is important we acknowledge that.

That is no consolation to anyone waiting 12 weeks.

In those areas where there is particular pressure, additional staff have been allocated and are being trained. More staff are also moving across from other Departments. The fact we are not recruiting people from outside the public sector but that the people are moving from other offices to our Department will help to speed up the process. We have also requested the Department of Finance to provide us with access to additional staff so that as claims come in they can be dealt with quickly.

What is the Minister doing about the knock-on effects for community welfare officers? Due to the fact that many people around the country must wait so long, they are going to community welfare officers. Those officers are in the same position and are unable to deal with their workloads, because people continue to come to them for normal payments along with others who are waiting for supplementary and mortgage payments.

It is important to acknowledge that even in those areas where there are delays in processing the applications, people who are in need of money are not left without it. The community welfare officers pay within a week and continue to pay until the claim is processed.

That is nonsense.

The Minister must be joking.

I appreciate that community welfare officers are under difficulty, but there is a strong message to send, that even though there are delays in processing in a few areas around the country, nobody in need of money is left without it.

That is nonsense.

I have an e-mail here from a community welfare officer that contradicts what the Minister is saying. Community welfare officers throughout the country are inundated with people. Some people are unable to pay their bills and are defaulting on their loans because they are unable to get a payment from the Department. The Minister said earlier her responsibility was only for making payments. She has no feeling for the people who are waiting for payments. If she believes her responsibility is only to make the payments, she should get a job in the Paymaster General's office and step down as Minister.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

The Deputy has referred to two different questions. With regard to carers, the point I made was that the Department of Social and Family Affairs makes the payment to them, but it is the Department of Health and Children that provides respite care, home help, etc.

I was talking about jobseeker's allowance.

My Department is responsible for ensuring that the €20 billion of taxpayers' money goes to the most vulnerable in society. That is a budget we aim to protect.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

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