Thursday, 30 May 2019

Ceisteanna (4)

John Brady

Ceist:

4. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the length of time it takes for social welfare payments to be processed following an application granted on appeal when returned to the relevant section; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23105/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Employment)

I am seeking a breakdown of the length of time it takes for social welfare payments to be processed following an application granted on appeal when returned to the relevant section.

My Department is committed to providing a quality service for all recipients.  This includes ensuring that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible.  Where a customer’s appeal is successful, every effort is made to implement the decision of the appeals officer without any delay.

There is no metric for the time taken to process claims following decisions from the social welfare appeals office.  Different legislative conditions apply to different schemes and the claiming process is different across the schemes.  As a result, deciding officers issue decisions at different stages of the claims process, depending on the scheme is being applied for or adjudicated on.

For some schemes, like carer’s allowance, a decision will be made on all the areas of entitlement at once and a decision letter will issue to the customer covering each area of entitlement.

For other schemes, like the State pension non-contributory, entitlement is assessed on a step-by-step basis.  Deciding officers first examine the right to reside and habitual residence condition, HRC, and issue reports in that regard.  If a deciding officer determines that this condition has not been satisfied, a decision letter will issue to the customer at that stage and the claim will not be processed any further unless additional information is supplied, thereby necessitating a review.  Where the HRC is satisfied, the claim moves to the next stage, the means test, which may also be appealed.

For claims processed on a step-by-step basis, the length of time between a successful appeal and the customer receiving payment will depend on the stage of the claim process at which the claim was originally disallowed.  A claim appealed on the grounds of the means test is further along in the process than a claim appealed as a result of the HRC, so those customers may receive their payment more quickly.

Customers can claim supplementary welfare allowance while their appeals are being considered.

I tabled this question because there are huge delays in processing payments for people awarded disability allowance following appeals. This was first brought to my attention a number of weeks ago when I learned of a person who applied and was rejected in 2018 but who appealed in April and was successful. That individual is still awaiting payment. We have been in touch with the Department, which has informed us that it is only processing payments from the end of March. This means that there is a delay of eight or nine weeks. The waiting time for processing an initial application in March was 13 weeks. When a case goes to appeal, there is a wait of 23 weeks but there is a huge delay when the appeal is successful. There is a particular problem when people with disabilities, some of the most vulnerable individuals in our State, are left waiting for such a length of time. I hope the Minister is aware of the problem and ask her to outline what is being done to address it.

In any year, approximately 85% of claims to the Department are awarded. The application process is relatively simple, albeit lengthy. Only 1% of people who apply make an appeal. This is a small number but the Department makes every effort to adjudicate on appeals as quickly as possible. Significant efforts and resources have been devoted to this process in recent years, as a result of which appeals processing times improved between 2011 and 2017, from 52 weeks for an oral hearing in 2012 to 26 weeks in 2017. It took 25 weeks for a summary decision in 2012 but 19 weeks in 2017. The processing times for 2018 were 30 weeks for an oral hearing and 24 weeks for a summary decision. There have been improvements in the first quarter of this year, following staff moves, and we are recruiting. There were, however, a number of retirements from our appeals section and we cannot expect new people to have the experience and knowledge of dealing with appeals that their predecessors had built up over many years. New staff need to train and build experience but by the end of this year we will have a fully operational, manned and womaned team and I expect the numbers to which the Deputy referred to come down.

That does not really answer the question. The Minister stated only 1% of people appealed. I accept that, but there is a massive waiting time for people who go through the appeals process and, in particular, for the awarding of payment following an appeal. We are informed that people with disabilities, who have gone through a very lengthy process of applying and going to appeal and who win their appeal, have to wait for eight or nine weeks without payment. The Department has indicated that it is only now processing payments from the end of March. That is totally unacceptable. Vulnerable people are forced to seek money elsewhere, having already gone through a stringent and lengthy process. What is being done to address this? Is the answer to move people around?

The people who make the payments are not the same people who make the decisions. When a decision is made, the case is transferred to the section that makes payments. There is a delay but we are trying to reduce it. It may cause undue distress but there is not a single person who has been awarded a claim and who cannot get money from their local office. We make house calls to ensure people who have been awarded a claim get a supplementary welfare payment in the interim and nobody suffers hardship as they await their payment. The Deputy is right that having been awarded something and having to wait seven or eight weeks is a pain, particularly if a person has already waited a long time. The Department is constantly looking at staff resources and reviewing where people can be sent when they are freed up from other projects. When possible, we put people where they are needed most, in this case our appeals section.

I thank the Minister and Deputies for co-operating. We were a little late starting but we are moving along nicely.