The Department is committed to delivering the best possible service to its customers. In the interests of fairness and equity applications are processed, as far as possible, in order of the date on which they were received in the Department.
A major service delivery modernisation project is underway to address the large increase in the claim-load and to improve the efficiency of administration of the carer's allowance scheme. This involves the development of information technology functions and associated business process re-organisation. It is anticipated that the new system will introduce significant processing efficiencies and a quicker and more responsive service to the customer. Accordingly, the project is being given high priority and involves a significant level of time and commitment from the relevant staff in the Department. This has had a short-term negative impact on claim processing times. This essential focus of certain staff resources will continue until the completion of the modernisation project in June of this year when all existing carer's allowance claims will be transferred onto the new processing system.
Accurate processing time figures are not available at present as applications are still being processed on both the old and the new computer systems. The average time to award an application at present is estimated at around 28 weeks. There are currently approximately 7,800 new applications registered and awaiting a decision and approximately 330 new applications are received each week. I acknowledge that this is unsatisfactory but I am satisfied that the Department is taking all steps available to it to resolve the issue.
In addition to the deployment of new systems which should address service levels in the medium term, the Department is allocating additional resources in the form of overtime working to help reduce backlogs that have built up. In addition, approval has recently been given for the assignment of temporary staff to expedite the reduction of the backlogs. However, it is expected to be a significant number of months before the backlog is reduced to an acceptable level.
In the meantime, if a person's means are insufficient to meet their needs while awaiting a decision on an application, they may apply for a means-tested supplementary welfare allowance payment from their local community welfare officer.