The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.
When an appeal is assigned to an Appeals Officer for consideration the Appeals Officer makes a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if necessary, holds an oral hearing. The use of an oral hearing is at the discretion of the Appeals Officer.
I am advised that oral hearings are not suspended. However, due to the public health restrictions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, in-person hearings were suspended in March 2020 and have remained suspended since then, with the exception of a small number of weeks in August and September 2020.
Oral hearings have been successfully conducted online or by telephone since October 2020 and these types of hearings will continue. This remote hearing approach has proven to be an effective way, during the pandemic, of facilitating an oral hearing previously achieved via the holding of an in-person hearing.
During this period, Appeals Officers have also made make greater use of telephone contact and correspondence to gather additional information or seek clarification which might otherwise have been ascertained in the course of an oral hearing. This has reduced the need to conduct oral hearings.
I am also advised that the reliance on remote hearings and greater use of correspondence has enabled a greater number of appeals to be concluded and reduced overall processing times.
I am therefore satisfied that the use of online and telephone based oral hearings and the use of a greater level of contact by phone or written correspondence has been beneficial in enabling appeals to proceed during a period of significant public health restrictions.
Oral hearing arrangements will continue to be kept under regular review.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.