Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Ceisteanna (693)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

693. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of social welfare appeals lodged in each of the years 2011 to 2018 and to date in 2019; the percentage of appeals which were successful; the average waiting time in these years in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52942/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

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. 

Appeals which had a favourable outcome for the appellant consist of appeals which were either allowed in full or in part by an Appeals Officer, or which were resolved by way of a revised decision in favour of the appellant by a Deciding Officer / Designated Person.  

In any year about 85% of all claims are awarded by the Department and just 1% are appealed.  Nevertheless, the Appeals Office continues to work to ensure that these cases are dealt with as quickly as possible.  

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; this was the case in 37.6% of such successful outcomes in 2017, 31.5% of such outcomes in 2018 and 37.3% of such outcomes to the end of November 2019.  

Where the decision was not revised by the Department in light of the appeal contentions, further evidence is often provided by the appellant as the appeal process proceeds and, in addition, the Appeals Officer may gain insights when they meet the appellant in person at oral hearing which may influence the outcome of the appeal.  

The time taken to process an appeal reflects a number of factors including that the appeals process is a quasi-judicial process with Appeals Officers being required to decide all appeals on a ‘de-novo’ basis.  In addition, appeals decisions are themselves subject to review by the High Court and decisions have to be formally written up to quasi-judicial standards.  Other factors that influence appeals processing times include the quality of the initial decision – in this respect the Department has changed the decisions process in respect of medical schemes, in order to provide more information to the claimant.  It is expected that this will help to reduce the number of appeals over time.  

Significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years.  As a result, appeal processing times in respect of all schemes generally improved between 2011 and 2017 from 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing in 2011 to 26.4 weeks in 2017, and from 25.1  weeks for a summary decision in 2011 to 19.8 weeks in 2017.  

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, the latest data 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 improvement will continue.  

Finally, 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.  If their application for supplementary welfare allowance is refused, they can also appeal that decision.  

The statistics required by the Deputy are set out in the following tables.    

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.  

Appeal Receipts and Percentage of Favourable Decisions of Appeals Finalised 2011 – 2019

Year's

Appeal Receipts     

Appeals Finalised     

Favourable Decisions     

Appeals Disallowed     

      Withdrawn     

2011

31,241

34,027

42.2%

50.1%

7.7%

2012

35,484

32,558

50.4%

42.6%

7.0%

2013

32,777

38,421

55.0%

39.0%

6.0%

2014

26,069

31,211

56.5%

37.7%

5.8%

2015

24,475

25,406

58.8%

36.1%

5.1%

2016

22,461

23,220

59.2%

35.9%

4.9%

2017

19,658

18,980

60.1%

33.9%

6.0%

2018  

18,854

18,507

58.8%

36.1%

5.1%

2019 (to 30/11/2019)

21,164

20,547

56.4%

37.4%

6.2%

Appeal Processing Times 2011 – 2019

Year's      

Average processing times (weeks) - Summary Decisions     

Average processing times (weeks) - Oral Hearings  

2011

25.1

52.5

2012

27.8

39.5

2013    

25.8

33.9

2014

21.1

28.6

2015

18.1

25.5

2016

17.6

24.1

2017

19.8

26.4

2018 

24.8

30.0

2019 (to 30/11/2019)

22.4

27.3