The Social Welfare Appeals Office is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements. It was established under Statute and discharges its functions independently of both me and the Department.
I am advised that the total number of appeals waiting to be determined at the end of October 2019 was 9,739. This includes all appeals at various stages of the appeals process including those with my Department awaiting submissions and those scheduled for oral hearings.
I am also advised that there has been an 20.2% increase in the receipt of appeals in the year to the end of October with 19,436 appeals compared to 16,166 appeals received in the same period in 2018. 18,660 appeals were finalised to the end of October 2019 compared with 15,171 in the same period in 2018. This is an increase of 23%.
Of the 18,660 appeals finalised to the end of October 2019 3,974 (21.3%) were finalised as a result of a revised decision by a Deciding Officer in favour of the appellant. This reflects the fact that many appeals include new evidence or documents not originally provided to the Department's Deciding Officer. Of the remainder, 6,570 (35.2%) were allowed or partly allowed by an Appeals Officer, 6,939 (37.2%) were disallowed by an Appeals Officer and 1,177 (6.3%) were withdrawn. This means that 56.5% of appellants had a favourable outcome to their appeal.
Where a claimant has been refused a social welfare payment, regardless of the scheme involved, and is appealing that decision, if their means are insufficient to meet their needs it is open to them to apply for supplementary welfare allowance in the interim.
With regard to processing times, processing performance has in the past number of years been affected by a relatively large number of retirements in the office - although these staff have been replaced it takes time for a new Appeals Officer to reach full productivity. Nevertheless data for 2019 show an improvement from 30 weeks for an oral hearing and 24.6 weeks for a summary decision in 2018 to 27.5 and 22.7 weeks respectively in 2019. Although this is still too long additional resources have been allocated to the Appeals Office with seven additional Appeals Officers now in place compared to December 2018, and I am advised that this progress will continue.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.