Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Ceisteanna (232)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

232. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Social Protection the rationale for the centralisation of 25 community welfare offices in County Mayo into five locations; if her attention has been drawn to the hardship this may cause; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11577/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

One of the primary aims in the transfer of the Community Welfare Service (CWS) from the Health Service Executive to the Department on 1 October 2011 was to provide a streamlined and consistent service to customers. As part of this process and to support the Department’s activation commitments under the Pathways to Work Programme and the development of Intreo services nationally, it has been necessary to review the administration of all its services across its remit including the CWS.

The Pathways to Work Programme represents a significant reform in the social welfare system and highlighted the need for the Department to focus its resources on the provision of opportunities, supports and assistance to people on the live register by intensifying the Department’s level of engagement with people who are unemployed and in particular those who are, or become, long term unemployed. The new Intreo service offers practical, tailored employment services and supports for jobseekers, a model which is currently being rolled out across the country. It is in this context that the Department took a decision to rebalance resources across the Department’s range of activities including the relocation of some staff to main centres, primarily Intreo offices, which will provide a full range of services, including the CWS and these will, in general, be available in one location.

In the instance where the community welfare service has been re-structured, alternative arrangements have been put in place to ensure that customers are provided with on-going access to the supports provided by the service. All affected customers have been written to advising them of the dedicated email addresses and phone lines that have been set up allowing in many cases, for customer queries to be processed without having to attend a clinic. In addition, customers have also been advised of the new postal addresses of the Intreo offices and the clinic opening hours. In the event that a face to face meeting is still necessary, but the customer is unable to travel to the public clinic, for example due to illness, an officer will arrange a visit to the customer’s home.

The relocation of services coincides with greater integration between the community welfare service and other locally based staff of the Department. This process is being enhanced by the recent roll-out of a full Intreo service to Achill, Belmullet, Castlebar and Ballina and to Westport later this year. This roll-out has resulted in the frequency of available public clinics being increased to 5 days per week in Castlebar and Ballina, 3 days per week in Westport, and 2 days per week in Belmullet. In addition, the number of staff available in these offices will be increased, giving customers improved access to services.

The Department is continuously reviewing the staffing needs for all areas of its business, to ensure that the best possible use is made of available resources with a view to providing an efficient service to those who rely on the schemes operated by the Department and that the services provided are reconstituted, where necessary, to meet the changing needs of Irish society.