Thursday, 1 March 2012

Ceisteanna (45, 46)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

39 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will detail the scope, format and timeframe of the review she is conducting of the domiciliary care allowance scheme; if she is seeking views specifically from parents; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the notice period given in advance of the review of a child’s payment is far too short to allow for the parent to gather the medical reports and documentation needed to support their application for the continuation of the payment; if her further attention has been drawn to the anxiety and distress these reviews are causing parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11865/12]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Social Protection)

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.

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Ceist:

40 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will arrange for all disability benefit recipients to be given a notice of conclusion from her at an earlier stage and advice and assistance on the way to apply for disability allowance in advance of the conclusion of their disability benefits in order to ensure a seamless transition. [11871/12]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Since January 2009 payment of illness benefit is limited to a maximum of 104 weeks (624 pay days) in most cases. There are a number of possible social welfare payments for which a customer may qualify thereafter, depending on their circumstances. Letters are sent to illness benefit customers 13 weeks before their claim is due to expire. This period of advance notice is kept under review. The customer is advised about other possible schemes for which they may qualify, including invalidity pension, disability allowance, jobseeker's benefit, jobseeker's allowance and supplementary welfare allowance. Customers are also advised that if they are considering applying for any of the schemes they should do so as soon as possible. There has been a consistent upward trend in recent years in the number of applicants for invalidity pension — from 7,475 in 2009 to 14,621 in 2011. In order to qualify for invalidity pension applicants must be permanently incapable of work and satisfy the social insurance contribution conditions. Approximately 70% of applicants do not meet the criteria.

In an effort to ensure that recipients of illness benefit receive a decision on invalidity pension in advance of the expiry of their illness benefit, resources are prioritised towards those claims where illness benefit is due to expire first. Every effort is made to process claims prior to the expiry of the illness benefit entitlement. It should be noted, however, that an average of approximately 70% of all such claims for invalidity pension are found not to qualify. In order to meet the challenge of increased volumes of new claims for its schemes, the department has embarked on a major programme of process redesign and modernisation, including the deployment of new computer systems. A new processing system has recently been rolled-out to manage the processing of new claims in disability allowance. Customer service delivery remains a key priority in my department and processes are kept under continuous review to ensure that services are delivered promptly to customers. Staffing needs are also kept under regular review to ensure that the best use is made of all available resources.

If a person has an income need pending a decision on any scheme they may apply for a means-tested supplementary welfare allowance payment from their local community welfare officer.