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.
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 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.
There has been a decrease in overall appeals processing times to date in 2021 with appeals requiring an oral hearing taking an average of 25.6 weeks (27.1 weeks in 2020) and summary decisions taking 13.8 weeks (15.5 weeks in 2020) to finalise. The figures for October 2021 are 20.9 weeks for appeals requiring an oral hearing and 14.0 weeks for summary decisions. Processing times will continue to be a key focus of the Chief Appeals Officer.
Oral hearing arrangements will continue to be kept under regular review.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.