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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 303-323
 Header Item Departmental Expenditure
 Header Item Child Benefit Appeals
 Header Item Jobseeker's Allowance Appeals
 Header Item Rent Supplement Scheme Eligibility
 Header Item Departmental Expenditure
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes Eligibility
 Header Item Domiciliary Care Allowance Appeals
 Header Item Community and Employment Schemes
 Header Item Ministerial Meetings
 Header Item Rural Social Scheme Applications
 Header Item Community Welfare Services
 Header Item Disability Allowance Appeals
 Header Item Child Care Services Inquiry
 Header Item Invalidity Pension Eligibility
 Header Item Departmental Strategies
 Header Item Illness Benefit Applications
 Header Item Departmental Equipment

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 796 No. 1

First Page Previous Page Page of 82 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 303-323

Question No. 303 answered with Question No. 297.

Departmental Expenditure

 304. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the cost of drivers of each vehicle assigned to her and Ministers of State in her Department since March 2011; the mileage and other costs claimed in respect of each since March 2011; the overall yearly costs of Ministerial cars in 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12464/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton On taking office the Government reformed the transport arrangements for Ministers which has radically reduced the costs of travel.

  The Government decision involved confining the use of State cars from 1 May 2011. As a result, the average cost of providing transport has been reduced by 65% - from an average cost of €280,000 per minister in 2010 to a current annual estimate of €100,000 per annum.

  In line with the reformed arrangements, I now use my own car for official business. The travel /mileage rates payable depend on the car engine size and also incorporate a number of expense elements associated with the cost of running a car, such as road tax and insurance. The engine size of my car is 1400cc and the rate applicable is 46.25 cent per kilometre.

  The mileage costs which I have claimed since 01 May 2011 to 31 January 2013 amount to €14,754.99.

  I have two civilian drivers, both on a remuneration rate of €631.75 per week. The total salary costs involved to date has been €112,259.85.

  They may also claim travel and subsistence allowances, in accordance with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regulations for necessary absences on official duties from home and headquarters. Total cost of travel and subsistence claimed by my drivers to date is €2,298.04.

  The total cost incurred in all of the above amounts to €129,312.88 for the period 01 May 2011 to 31 January 2013. This represents a significant reduction on the average cost of €280,000 per minister per annum under the previous system.

  The previous practice whereby all Ministers were provided with State cars and Garda drivers fell within the remit of the Department of Justice and in this regard details of the costs involved in respect of 2010 would be a matter for my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality.

  There is no Junior Minister assigned to the Department.

Child Benefit Appeals

 305. Deputy Jack Wall Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the position regarding a child benefit in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12467/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer on 28 January 2013, who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing.

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 on social welfare entitlements.

Jobseeker's Allowance Appeals

 306. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the reason for the continued delay in the awarding of jobseeker's allowance in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12468/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The persons concerned have both made repeat claims for jobseeker’s allowance, having both lost their appeal against an earlier disallowance. The first repeat claim was made on the 4 December 2012 and the second person made their claim on 1 January 2013. Both claims are currently under investigation in relation to the assessment of means. Once the means assessment is completed, a decision will be made on each claim and the persons concerned will be advised of the outcome.

Rent Supplement Scheme Eligibility

 307. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the reason for the continued delay in the awarding of rent support in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12469/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton One of the persons concerned has a claim for rent supplement on which payment is currently suspended, pending the establishment of his entitlement to a primary social welfare payment.

The person concerned had a claim for Jobseekers Allowance which was disallowed and this decision was upheld on appeal in October 2012. As a consequence, the Rent Allowance claim was suspended with effect from 31 October 2012.

The person has made a repeat claim for Jobseekers Allowance on 4 December 2012. The claim is currently under investigation in relation to the assessment of means. Once the means assessment is completed and a decision is made in relation to the Jobseekers Allowance claim, the position in relation to the Rent Allowance claim will be reviewed, and the persons concerned will be advised of the outcome.

Departmental Expenditure

 308. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the number of credit cards issued to staff and Ministers in her Department; the total cost of each card since March 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12483/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton There are currently four credit cards in use by officers of the Department and one by the Pensions Ombudsman who operates under the aegis of the Department and for whom the Department makes administrative payments. Details of the cards and the total expenditure on each card since 2009 are set out in the accompanying table:

  Credit Card costs 2009 - 2013

  Purpose of card
2009 (€)
2010 (€)
2011 (€)
2012 (€)
2013 to date (€)
1 Hire of rooms for Appeal hearings
61
21,960
92,855
124,883
12,639
2 Purchase of software
564
4,603
1,291
5,400
7,519
3 Ministerial expenditure
3,141
523
1,205
1,450
215
4 Purchase of training materials
929
563
942
5,050
31
5 Pensions Ombudsman expenditure
2,021
2,033
1,376
2,164
122
*6 Purchase of documentation and software.  Booking of flights on internet.
443
303
341
40
0
**7 Official entertainment in relation to EU International section.
6,039
105
2,943
0
0
Totals:
13,198
30,090
100,953
138,987
20,526


  *  This credit card was cancelled in 2012.

**  This credit card was cancelled in 2011.

  The costs for each credit card includes annual fees and government stamp duty. Stamp duty is currently €30.00 per year on each card and the annual fee is €75.00 per card for American Express and €31.00 for Visa. The credit cards are managed so as to minimise fees and charges.

Community Employment Schemes Eligibility

 309. Deputy Mattie McGrath Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the avenue available to a person who is unemployed or disabled who wishes to pursue a community employment or FÁS training course and so on but who is not in receipt of a payment due to the income of their spouse and where such a course would be beneficial to their rehabilitation and well-being; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12486/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The aim of Community Employment (CE) remains as an active labour market programme with the emphasis on progression into employment and/or further education and training. The core eligibility criterion for CE is that the person is in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment and is either long term unemployed or socially marginalised.

At present, persons signing for credits or who are otherwise ineligible for a social welfare payment, do not meet the current eligibility requirements for participation on the CE Scheme. They may, however, be eligible for participation on other Departmental programmes or FÁS programmes, although they may not qualify for payment of an allowance.

Such persons are advised to contact their local DSP Employment Services Office where an Employment Services Officer will discuss the employment and training options that are open to them.

Within the current budgetary constraints, the number of places has increased by an additional 2,000 places to 25,300 for 2013. In delivering these places, the Department will continue to manage this allocation in order to maximise progression to the labour market, while at the same time facilitating the support of community services.

Domiciliary Care Allowance Appeals

 310. Deputy Dara Murphy Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if a decision has been made on a domiciliary care allowance appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12525/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 17th January 2013. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. These papers were received in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 13  February 2013 and the case will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing.

  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 on social welfare entitlements.

Community and Employment Schemes

 311. Deputy Ciarán Lynch Information on Ciaran Lynch Zoom on Ciaran Lynch asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if there is a resolution available to the anomaly that prevented a person (details supplied) in Cork from pursuing an appropriate supervisory position with TÚS because of participation in a less appropriate community employment scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12556/13]

 323. Deputy Pat Breen Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton her plans to change the criteria for a scheme (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12639/13]

 327. Deputy Dara Murphy Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if it possible for a person (details supplied) in County Cork to accept a job on the Tús scheme having in the past 12 months been on a community employment scheme, which although is not jobseeker's is still a payment from her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12716/13]

 337. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if a person secures a three to six month community employment supervisor contract will that preclude them from applying for a Tús supervisor's position for the following 18 months. [12827/13]

 338. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will clarify the eligibility criteria for the position of Tús supervisor, in the event of the two schemes, Tús and Fás, being linked and if she will outline the eligibility criteria in that situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12828/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I propose to take Questions Nos. 311, 323, 327, 337 and 338 together.

TÚS, the community work placement initiative introduced during 2011, was initially set up to provide up to 5,000 short-term, quality work opportunities for those who are unemployed for more than a year. As part of the 2013 budget package for the Department of Social Protection, the number of places on Tús is being extended by 2,500 so that the total places approved will increase from 5,000 to 7,500. To date 8,178 people have completed or are currently on work placements. This figure includes supervisory/team leader positions. As a relatively new initiative, Tús continues to be monitored and developed and to date has proven to be effective in meeting its objectives.

A person cannot apply to participate on Tús. All selection is undertaken by random processes conducted at local level by the Department of Social Protection. The selection is focused on those on the live register for a year or more and in receipt of a jobseekers’ payment. I consider the current selection process effective and I have no proposals to alter these arrangements. Eligibility for supervisory/team leader positions on Tús is the same for participants, i.e. it is confined to those on the Live Register for at least 12 months and in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance at the time of application. A person on a community employment scheme does not meet the criteria as they are not in receipt of a jobseekers payment. Tús is focused on those on the Live Register for a year or more and have more limited job or work placement opportunities.

Ministerial Meetings

 312. Deputy Nicky McFadden Information on Nicky McFadden Zoom on Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will provide detail on the recent EU EPSCO Council meeting and the agreement reached on an EU youth guarantee; the way a guarantee scheme will provide young persons with better labour market prospects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12557/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The main item on the agenda of the recent Council of Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Ministers (EPSCO) meeting in Brussels was youth unemployment. Under my chairmanship, EPSCO gave political agreement to a Council Recommendation on an EU-wide Youth Guarantee. The EPSCO Recommendation is that each Member State should ensure that young people receive a quality offer of employment or of continued education, an apprenticeship or traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed. The Recommendation will be formally adopted by the Council at a later stage in Ireland's Presidency - most likely in May.

  The Recommendation encourages Member States to implement its provisions as soon as possible once it is formally adopted. It is also recognised that implementation will need to be more gradual in countries with higher levels of youth unemployment and particularly severe budgetary problems.

  In anticipation of the formal adoption of the Recommendation, the government will review the current range of youth employment and training policies in Ireland to assess what measures will need to be taken to commence the gradual implementation of the guarantee. This will include the identification of what would be the appropriate timescale for implementation in Ireland's current employment and budgetary circumstances.

  The scale and nature of the measures required will depend on the trend in youth unemployment, and in particular the number of young people likely to experience periods of unemployment of more than four months under current policies. In this context, it is a welcome development that the official labour market figures published by the CSO last week indicated that the number of young unemployed at the end of 2012, at 59,000, showed a reduction of almost 9,000 on the same time a year earlier. It is to be hoped that this is the beginning of a sustained downward movement in youth unemployment as the economy recovers. Even so, the implementation of a guarantee will, almost certainly require an expansion in the range of opportunities currently on offer to young people in the form of further education, training, internships, subsidised private-sector recruitment, and supports for self-employment. All of these initiatives will be designed to enhance the labour market prospects of young people.

  In this regard the State already provides a significant number of places which are available to young people and the Department of Social Protection took steps in Budget 2013 to increase funding and places for schemes such as JobBridge, Community Employment, TÚS and a new state employment scheme in the local Government sector. In total an additional 10,000 places will be provided. The Department of Education also made provision for the new momentum programme which is providing 6,500 new training places many of which will be taken up by young people. A new recruitment incentive – JobsPlus – has also been developed by my Department and was approved by the Government as part of the Action Plan for Jobs. This incentive will cover the cost of c. €1 in every €4 of an employer’s wage costs and will be launched for availability by July 2013. The size of the any additional provision that is both desirable and feasible will be established over the coming months.

  The afternoon session of the EPSCO meeting saw Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, chair a policy debate by Employment Ministers on the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey and Joint Employment Report in the context of the European Semester.

  The EPSCO meeting also heard a presentation from EU Commissioner László Andor on the "Social Investment Package", which was published by the EU Commission last week. The package contains the Commission’s communication on the concept of social investment as providing a direction towards growth and cohesion for the EU, as well as a recommendation on “Investing in Children: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage”.

  I look forward to working with both the Council and the Commission on how best to give effect to the principles and actions outlined in the social investment communication.

  The EPSCO meeting is only the start of this process. My intention is to continue work on this important issue with a view to having formal conclusions at the next EPSCO meeting next June in Luxembourg.

  Social protection systems are vital in protecting EU citizens against the worst effects of the crisis. Through investment in education and training, they also have a lead role to play in ensuring that citizens are job-ready and in a position to avail of labour market opportunities as the recovery comes.

A fiscal response to the crisis is not enough - there must also be a social response, and I welcome the Package and Commissioner Andor's strong personal commitment on this issue.

Rural Social Scheme Applications

 313. Deputy Colm Keaveney Information on Colm Keaveney Zoom on Colm Keaveney asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the current position of the rural social scheme; if she will provide details of the likely changes that may be made to the scheme in the coming year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12562/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The rural social scheme provides income support for farmers and those engaged in fishing who have an entitlement to specified social welfare payments. Participants are engaged for 19½ hours per week to provide certain services of benefit to rural communities. The scheme currently provides work opportunities for around 2,600 participants and 130 supervisory staff. The funds allocated for 2013 amount to €45.00m, which should enable the scheme to continue as in previous years but does not allow for the recruitment above the numbers stated above.

The Department of Social Protection has recently published a review of employment support schemes which, together with the outcome of the focused policy assessment of the RSS which the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has indicated it intends to conduct this year, will inform future policy developments of the scheme.

Community Welfare Services

 314. Deputy Joan Collins Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if the community welfare offices currently in Curlew Road, Limekiln Road and Cashel Road are being moved into Parnell Road; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12585/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton My Department is examining at present ways to make the delivery of the welfare service more efficient in the areas concerned, having regard to available resources, both currently and in the future.

One model of delivery that has been successful in other areas of Dublin is consolidation of smaller offices, with limited opening times and availability, into a central unit in the area that has an expanded range of availability to the public. The Department’s Facilities Management Unit is currently examining options to secure such a premises in the area; including some discussions with the HSE in relation to premises at Cashel Rd.

When clarity is available on this a communications strategy will be put in place, as has happened in other areas, whereby customers, the public, local representatives and other stakeholders are notified well in advance of any change.

Disability Allowance Appeals

 315. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will expedite a disability allowance appeal in respect of a person (details supplied). [12593/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that the disability allowance claim of the person concerned was disallowed following an assessment by a Medical Assessor who expressed the opinion that she was medically unsuitable for the allowance. An appeal was registered on 10 December 2012 and in accordance with the statutory procedures the relevant department papers and the comments of the Deciding Officer on the matter raised in the appeal have been sought. In that context, an assessment by another Medical Assessor will be carried out.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Child Care Services Inquiry

 316. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will re examine increasing the number of child care places, currently 6,000, in order to allow for help for one parent families who face a cut in payment from July; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12596/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I am very conscious that the forthcoming changes to the one-parent family payment (OFP) scheme highlight the need for additional supports to be in place for lone parents who will be affected by these changes. In particular, there will be a need for additional after-school child care provision to be made available in order to assist former OFP recipients to make their transition into activation and employment. The joint child care initiative that Minister Fitzgerald and I announced as part of Budget 2013 is in recognition of the support that these individuals will require. This initiative will provide approximately 6,000 after-school child care places for low-income families and social welfare income support recipients who gain employment and who have children of primary school age.

Officials from my Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (D/CYA), and the Department of Education and Skills (D/ES) are presently working out the exact parameters of the scheme, which will be launched on a phased basis during 2013, commencing with a pilot in April, 2013.

The after-school childcare scheme is being funded from savings of €14 million coming from within my Department. The D/CYA has confirmed that this equates to approximately 6,000 after-school childcare places including full-day care for school holidays. Given the current fiscal constraints it is not possible to allocate any additional funding to the scheme and so the number of places cannot be increased at this time.

Invalidity Pension Eligibility

 317. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the position regarding entitlement to invalidity pension in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12606/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Invalidity pension is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and who satisfy the contribution conditions.

  Entitlement to invalidity pension can only be fully determined on receipt of a completed application form. To date no application has been received from the person concerned.

Departmental Strategies

 318. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will detail the clear, controlled targets used within her Department for clearing backlogs in applications and appeals for illness schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12611/13]

 320. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the way in which backlogs for illness scheme applications and appeals are prioritised; if there is a defined triage-type protocol to determine and deal with the need of the individual applicant; if she will detail this protocol; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12614/13]

 321. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if a more permanent solution to handling social welfare assistance applications and appeals is being looked at instead of allowing backlogs to habitually develop and addressing them by redeploying staff temporarily; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12615/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I propose to take Questions Nos. 318, 320 and 321 together.

  The Department is committed to delivering the best possible service to its customers and works to ensure that claims are processed in the most efficient and expeditious way possible, having regard to the eligibility conditions that apply to each scheme.

  There are no significant backlogs of new claims awaiting decision in illness benefit, domiciliary care allowance or invalidity pension. Claims are processed within a short time of receipt.

  In respect of disability allowance, there are approximately 6,500 applications for disability allowance awaiting a decision. The average number of weeks to award a disability allowance application is currently approximately 17 weeks. A recent analysis of the applications pending decision indicated that approximately 60% of them had been waiting for a decision for 12 weeks or fewer.   Following completion of a major service delivery modernisation project for the scheme, a plan is in place to deal with day-to-day intake of new claims along with a programme to eliminate the backlog. Temporary staff has been assigned to the disability allowance area to assist in reducing the backlog.   The target is to have new applications actioned within a short period of receipt and to have the backlog of disability allowance applications actioned by the end of quarter 2 2013.

  The Social Welfare Appeals Office has supplied the following information with regard to the time taken to process appeals in the illness-related schemes:

  Average Processing Times of Appeals 2012

- Summary Decisions

(weeks)
Oral Hearings

(weeks)
Disability Allowance 34.2 40.6
Domiciliary Care Allowance 32.5 41.4
Invalidity Pension 38.8 48.7
Illness Benefit 41.8 50.6


  Appeals processing times are calculated from the registration date of the appeal to the date of its finalisation and include all activities during this period including time spent in the Department for comments by the deciding officer on the grounds of appeal put forward by the appellant and any further investigation, examination or assessment by the Department’s inspectors and/or medical assessors that is deemed necessary. A considerable period of time is added to the process when an oral hearing is required because of the logistics involved in this process.

  As a consequence of the very high number of decisions made in the last 9 months while backlogs have been reducing, there has been a corresponding substantial increase in the number of appeals being received.   Delays in the preparation of claims for appeal are arising as a consequence and this is regretted. In addition, delays have developed in the processing of medical assessments and reviews due to a combination of factors including the increased workload for medical assessors and the reduced number of medical assessors due to retirements. The Department is addressing this issue and has recently run a competition to establish a new panel of medical assessors. Three new medical assessors were appointed from this panel and all commenced work in November 2012. It is expected that a further 8 medical assessors will be appointed from the panel in the near future.

  In the interests of fairness and equity claim for illness-related schemes are generally processed in order of the date in which they are received. However, the individual schemes may operate systems to appropriately prioritise certain claims in view of the particular circumstances. For example disability allowance new claims received from 16 year olds who were previously in receipt of domiciliary care allowance and illness benefit claims from persons who have no other income are given priority.

  The aim in respect of all social welfare scheme areas, including the illness-related schemes, is to process new claims within a short time of receipt and to process requests for appeals as quickly as possible. Targets are set and monitored for each scheme. It can happen that, from time to time, a backlog may build up in any scheme. This may be the result of a number of factors, changes in scheme conditions, and other demand on resources, long term sick leave, claim volume increases to name but a possible few. In that event, the Department makes every effort to ensure that there is adequate resource to process the additional work. In some cases, temporary staff may be assigned to help in these situations, but they are not used as a permanent solution.

Service delivery remains a key priority in my Department and processes are kept under continuous review to ensure that services are delivered promptly to customers. Staffing needs are also kept under constant review to ensure that the best use is made of all available resources.  

Illness Benefit Applications

 319. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the number of full-time medical assessors who are or have been employed by her Department to oversee illness scheme applications and appeals currently and in each year for the past five years; the number of medical assessors who have been or are employed on a part-time basis; if there is scope to hire new assessors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12612/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton There are currently 25 Medical Assessors employed in my Department, including the Chief Medical Adviser and the Deputy Chief Medical Adviser. Of this number, 3 were appointed this week. All of the staff in question serve on a full-time basis.

  A public competition was held to appoint additional Medical Assessors in 2012 and my Department is liaising with the Public Appointments Service with a view to appointing a further 5 Medical Assessors at the earliest opportunity.

  The role of the Medical Assessor is essential in assessing and reviewing illness related claims. I am very pleased that the Department received sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to increase their number thereby enabling the Department to deliver a better service to our customers.

  Details of the number of Medical Assessors serving in the Department in March in each of the past 5 years are shown in the table below:

Year No. of Medical Assessor Posts
2008 19
2009 22
2010 24
2011 24
2012 23

Questions Nos. 320 and 321 answered with Question No. 318.

Departmental Equipment

 322. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the IT cataloguing system used by her Department to accept and process illness benefit claims and appeals; the procedure from initial application through to final decision after appeals have been exhausted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12616/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The IT system used by the Department of Social Protection to accept and process illness benefit claims is the Integrated Short-Term Scheme (ISTS) computer system. This system provides an integrated IT service for the administration, processing and generation of payments in respect of illness benefit claims. This system also handles the processing of claims for all short term schemes. The ISTS system is integrated with the Department’s Central Records System and communicates with other systems as necessary.

Illness benefit claims are submitted to the Department following the customer’s consultation with their general practitioner via a written application form (MC1). These claims are then processed by deciding officers of illness benefit branch using the ISTS system. Claims are decided by deciding officers appointed by the Minister under section 299 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005. A written notification of the decision is issued to the claimant automatically by the ISTS system. The average claim processing time for illness benefit claims is one week.

The customer is required to continue to provide certified evidence of their incapacity which is generally provided on a weekly basis in the form of a certificate completed by the customer and their GP (MC2). The claim is maintained on this basis.

During the course of a claim to illness benefit, a customer may be asked to attend for medical assessment by a Departmental Medical Assessor for a second opinion as to whether they are incapable of work. The opinion of the Medical Assessor following this assessment is submitted to a deciding officer for consideration regarding the customer's continued entitlement to illness benefit. Any person who is dissatisfied with a decision made by a deciding officer of the Department, may, by giving notice of appeal to the Chief Appeals officer within the statutory time limit, have the question referred to an appeals officer for determination.

An appeal may be sent directly to the Social Welfare Appeals Office or may be handed in to any office of the Department for transmission to the Appeals Office. In illness benefit cases the question normally at issue is whether the person is incapable of work. When an appeal is received against a decision that a claimant is not incapable of work it is normally referred for a second opinion of a different Medical Assessor. If this Assessor considers that the appellant is incapable the case is referred back to the deciding officer for a revised decision.

If the 2nd Medical Assessor also expresses the opinion that the person is capable of work, the appellant is notified of the result of this examination and is supplied with a form on which to set out the complete and up to date grounds of his/her appeal. The deciding officer may revise his/her decision at this stage in the light of new evidences provided or the case is passed to the appeals officer for consideration. An appeals officer may decide to hold an oral hearing of the appeal and will invite the appellant to attend. On the other hand the appeals officer may be able to deal with the appeal on the basis of the written evidence provided. The appellant will be notified in writing of the outcome of the appeal. The appeals officer will take account of all available evidence, including medical reports furnished by the appellant and evidence adduced at any oral hearing if one is granted.

Question No. 323 answered with Question No. 311.


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