Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Ceisteanna (46)

Joan Collins

Ceist:

46. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the steps being taken to reduce the waiting times to process disability allowance applications in view of the fact that it appears the waiting times have gone up recently; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50356/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (4 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Employment)

This question follows on from the previous question. Staff in my constituency office have asked me to raise this issue with the Minister because they have noticed recently, particularly with respect to carer's allowance and disability allowance, that waiting times for processing applications have increased. From the date that all the requested information is provided, it can take anything from three to four months to process an application. The Minister stated that the average waiting time for processing an application for carer's allowance is three months. My staff who had noticed a decrease in the waiting times have recently noticed that they have increased again. Is there a reason for that? People need four or five weeks to submit information, after which they must wait between 12 and 14 weeks for the application to go through.

Individual cases will obviously vary based on the information that individuals provide. All I can do, when I report the numbers, is report the average time.

It bothers me to learn from Deputy Collins that average waiting times appear to be increasing because the statistics indicate that the additional resources we have put into the carer's section are yielding results. Not long ago, I was in this Chamber apologising because at one point carer's allowance applicants were waiting 17 weeks on average. That meant the best outcome for an applicant was to wait for 17 weeks. God love those who could have been waiting much longer. The average waiting time for processing disability allowance applications is ten weeks. For carer's allowance, the average is ten weeks. For domiciliary care allowance, it is between ten and 12 weeks. The reason for the decrease is that, arising from efficiencies in other sections, we added extra staff with expertise to the division.

That is the plan. Without being smart, we knew that the carer's application form was a bit cumbersome. We spent a year working with Family Carers Ireland to do exactly what we did with the domiciliary care allowance application a number of years ago working with DCA Warriors. People tend to engage better and provide more information when the application process is made more streamlined. While this process and the additional staff we have provided significantly improved turnaround times, we still experience cases of applicants holding back information they think they will need for an appeal. The result is that the ten or 12 week process starts all over again because the application must go to the bottom of the new deciding officer's list. That is frustrating for me. Instead of having applications that have been rejected because they are not complete going to appeal and the process starting all over again, I have considered having a review process somewhere in the middle. However, that would create another pile. Without wishing to sound snarky, everybody should give us all of the information they can in the first instance. We do not have a policy of refusing applications in the first instance and dealing only with applicants who come back a second time. We are here to support people in their times of need and to ensure they have an income when they are doing things that stop them from otherwise having an income. In those cases, the answer is "Yes" but we can only say "Yes" to an applicant when he or she gives us all the information that is needed.

I take on board what the Minister says. Previously, when the waiting time was 17 weeks and possibly more, changes were made and the Minister provided additional resources. However, my staff are saying there seems to be a drop-off and are asking the reason for that. We are having no problem with illness benefit applications. They seem to be going through and the same applies to jobseeker's benefit applications. The difficulty was specifically with disability allowance and carer's allowance. We can send the details to the Minister.

I would appreciate that.