My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all of its customers. This includes ensuring that scheme applications are processed and decisions on entitlement made as quickly as possible.
Operational processes, procedures and the organisation of work are continually reviewed to ensure that processing capability is maximised with specific monthly targets set for responses within particular scheme area. This is to ensure that the best use is made of all available resources with a view to providing an efficient service to those who rely on the schemes operated by the Department
As part of my Department’s ongoing programme of service modernisation, a range of initiatives aimed at streamlining the processing of claims, supported by modern technology, have and are been implemented in recent years.
The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.
All claim decisions taken by the Department’s Deciding Officers and Designated Persons are appealable to the Chief Appeals Officer. In any year about 85% of all claims are awarded by the Department and just 1% are appealed. Nevertheless, the Department is concerned that these cases are dealt with as quickly as possible.
Accordingly, significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years. Appeal processing times for the year 2018 were 30 weeks for an oral hearing and 24.8 weeks for a summary decision. There has been some improvement in 2019. At the end of August, an oral hearing decision took 27.9 weeks and a summary decision took 23.2 weeks.
A number of new Appeals Officers have joined the Appeals Office over the past 12-18 months, to replace staff leaving on retirement. Given the complexity of the appeals process it takes some time for new staff to be trained up and develop expertise and this has led to somewhat longer processing times during this period. The Chief Appeals Officer has advised me that appeal processing times continue to be a priority for her Office.
There are a number of reasons why a decision which was refused at first instance might be successful on appeal and it is not necessarily the case that the first decision was incorrect. It is often the case that new evidence is provided with an appeal and that, as a result, the original decision may be revised by the Deciding Officer or Designated Person of the Department. This was the case in 58.8% of such successful outcomes in 2018 and 58% of such outcomes to the end of August 2019.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.