Domiciliary care allowance (DCA) is currently paid to over 24,000 parents/guardians in respect of 26,000 children at a cost of approximately €100m in 2011, with the accompanying Respite Care Grant costing a further €45m. In addition, the Department makes an extensive range of payments to support families with children. In 2011, some €2.08 billion was paid out in respect of 1.13 million children on child benefit. In addition, qualified child increases were also paid to people on social welfare payments in respect of some 495,000 children (369,000 at full rate and 126,000 at half rate).
DCA is a monthly payment to the parent/guardian of a child with a disability so severe that the child requires care and attention and/or supervision substantially in excess of another child of the same age. This care and attention must be provided to allow the child to deal with the activities of daily living. The child must be likely to require this level of care and attention for at least 12 months.
I can confirm to the Deputy that I have asked the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare to examine and report on the policy objectives underpinning the Budget 2012 proposals regarding changes in eligibility criteria and rates of payment for Disability Allowance and the increase in the age threshold for payment of Domiciliary Care Allowance and to assess the overall effectiveness of these proposals in delivering on these objectives. The Advisory Group has sought submissions from interested parties and I expect that the group will commence its work on this issue in the near future. Furthermore, representations from parents/guardians and/or representative groups on the operation of the scheme are routinely reviewed by officials of my Department.
Individual DCA cases are routinely reviewed to ensure that the conditions for receipt of the payment continue to be met. Reviews are initiated with the parent/guardian being asked to complete a "review of medical criteria form", which also requires medical input from the child's GP. The parent returns this form together with any additional recent reports of ongoing medical or therapeutic services the child may be receiving. While 21 days is allowed for the return of the completed review form and supporting documentation, flexibility is given where some additional time is needed to obtain specific reports. This information is then sent for review by a medical assessor who will provide an opinion to the deciding officer on whether the child continues to meet the medical criteria for receipt of the payment.
The decision of the deciding officer is communicated to the customer in writing and they are given the option to appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. Any new or additional information received after the issue of the revised decision and before the appeal is heard, is further assessed by a medical assessor. In this way, the review process affords parents/guardians every opportunity to provide additional information and to have this information assessed at an early stage with payment restored, where necessary, without the necessity of an appeal hearing.
Finally, I want to assure the Deputy that my Department is committed to ensuring that those children who meet the conditions for the scheme will continue to receive the payment.