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Domiciliary Care Allowance Review

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 10 December 2014

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Ceisteanna (5)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


5. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her views on the findings of the domiciliary care allowance review reports; if she is committed to implementing all the recommendations; and the steps she has taken from April 2013 to date in 2014 to implement same. [47085/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Social)

I am asking about the recommendation of the report on the domiciliary care allowance scheme and its reform. What are the recommendations and what is outstanding?

The domiciliary care allowance scheme transferred to the Department of Social Protection in 2009 and is now paid to over 27,100 parents or guardians in respect of some 29,100 children at a cost of €110 million per annum. In addition, recipients of domiciliary care allowance get a further €38 million through the annual respite care grant. The number of children currently in payment is over 3,000 higher than when the Department took over responsibility for the administration of the scheme in 2009. The scheme has been the subject of two reports commissioned by me during 2012. These were the report on the review of the domiciliary care allowance scheme and the second report of the advisory group on tax and social welfare on the review of budget 2012 proposals regarding disability allowance and domiciliary care allowance. Both were published in April 2013 and are available for download on the Department’s website.

The recommendations contained in the review of the domiciliary care allowance scheme have been fully implemented in the period since April 2013. The recommendations included a revised application form, improved information provision with new information guidelines and advance notification to the customers of an upcoming review and an extended period, now 60 days, to return the review form with any supporting documentation parents may wish to have considered, and an additional medical specialist form for use with applications involving children with pervasive developmental disorders.

The changes made also include improved feedback to customers on decisions. The implementation group continues to meet to monitor the impact of these changes and ensure they have a positive outcome for parents and guardians.

We have discussed this before but, from talking to parents and guardians, I believe the changes have certainly improved the situation. The critical issue is to provide the required information on the care needs of children when submitting a claim as this leads to improved outcomes and ensures the appropriate decision is made on domiciliary care allowance claims at the earliest opportunity.

One of the positive outcomes of the reviews discussed previously was the change to the form. I welcomed that change but some people were not consulted and have issues. The Tánaiste mentioned the medical specialist assessment form and we discussed the fact that problems can arise due to delay on the part of some consultants. The 60-day notice is welcome but consideration could be given to a longer notice period as it could help families with children with disabilities to be on the ball as early as possible. Over 2,000 children have been waiting more than a year for a speech and language therapy assessment, for example - if an assessment is not carried out in the first place there will be difficulties completing the medical specialist assessment form. I ask the Tánaiste to consider extending the 60-day notice by giving families notice earlier.

I am happy to that because co-operation exists on both sides of the House on the reviews of the domiciliary care allowance and there is a number of groups, including a stakeholder group, in the Department addressing this issue. The stakeholder group includes parents, obviously, and they help with the design of the forms, which is important. Parents in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance give care above and beyond what might be imagined and they often face very challenging situations. As the Deputy is aware, a significant number of parents in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance go on to receive the carer's allowance so I am happy to examine this matter.

The best way to address this issue might be for the committee to hold a hearing with the relevant officials. We have invested significantly in information technology, IT, and communications in this area and I recognise that some of the time periods involving specialists can be lengthy. I have no difficulty in extending the period as outlined by the Deputy but two months, plus the notification period, amounts to a lengthy period. The committee might meet the officials to discuss this but, in principle, there is no difficulty.

I will raise this with the committee because delays caused by waiting on documentation from specialists can be frustrating for families and the Department. Such delays have consequences because if an applicant fails to submit documentation on time it can have a detrimental effect, especially with regard to carer's allowance.

Can the same approach be taken on other forms? I refer to the form for carer's allowance and other such allowances. A useful approach was taken to the evolution of this form as it is now comprehensible to applicants and easier for the Department and specialists to read.

I am a strong supporter of plain English and plain Gaeilge forms. The forms we are discussing can have very significant income consequences for people but a certain amount of officialese is required. I am happy to do what the Deputy has requested. The stakeholders groups include carers and we meet carers associations regularly - I meet them several times a year in the Department and in pre-budget forums. I am happy to support suggestions in this area, particularly those relating to the plain English campaign.

It is important to disseminate some procedural information on a topic we have discussed previously. If people have additional information they should have it reviewed rather than lodge an appeal. The appeals system is a different structure with legal timeframes so things inevitably take longer.