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Written Answers - Social Welfare Benefits

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 754 No. 3

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 264.  Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins  asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  the position regarding an application for domiciliary care allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [6597/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton An application for domiciliary care allowance was received on 29th November 2011. This application was referred to one of the Department’s Medical Assessors who found that the child was not medically eligible for the allowance. A letter issued on 20th January 2012 advising of the decision.

In the case of an application which is refused on medical grounds, the applicant may submit additional information and/or ask for the case to be reviewed or they may appeal the decision directly to the Social Welfare Appeals Office within twenty one days.

Question No. 265 withdrawn.

 266.  Deputy Simon Harris Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris  asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  the eligibility criteria for the confirmation and communion grants; the dates on which this grant will issue for eligible persons in County Wicklow in view of confirmation and communion events being scheduled much earlier this year. [6608/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Under the supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme, the Department may make a single exceptional needs payment (ENP) to help meet essential, once-off, exceptional expenditure, which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. These ENP payments are a vital component of the SWA scheme and link the income support function of the scheme with the wider welfare role of the Department’s Community Welfare Service.

There is no automatic entitlement to a payment, or no predetermined amounts under the different categories for exceptional needs payments. ENP’s are payable at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case in order to ensure that the payments target those most in need of assistance.

[442]A review of the guidelines on Exceptional Needs Payments has recently been carried out by the Department by a working group made up of former Community Welfare Service staff. One of the recommendations emanating from this review is to address the different approaches taken, in different areas, in relation to the payment of exceptional needs payments in respect of religious ceremonies, mainly Communions and Confirmations, and to ensure that the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme is responding to financial need and not occasions.

In future, where the Department is satisfied that an exceptional need exists, it is recommended that a maximum payment of €110 can be made in respect of the religious ceremony (mainly Communions and Confirmations).

Persons who consider that they have an entitlement to an ENP under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme should contact the local officials administering the scheme (former Community Welfare Officers).

 267.  Deputy Brendan Ryan Information on Brendan Ryan Zoom on Brendan Ryan  asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  the current average waiting time for an application for carer’s allowance to be processed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6613/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The average time taken to award a claim for carer’s allowance for quarter to end Sept 2011 was 17 weeks. The average time to award for the last quarter of 2011 is unavailable as, due to the phased introduction of a new claims processing system in the carer’s allowance area, new claims are being processed on the new system while older claims are still being processed on the old system.

As mentioned above, a major service delivery modernisation project is under way to improve the efficiency of administration of the carer’s allowance scheme. This involves the development of information technology functions and associated business process re-organisation. The first tranche of new carer’s allowance claims began to be processed under the new system in August 2011. It is anticipated that the new system will introduce significant processing efficiencies and a quicker and more responsive service to the customer. Accordingly, the project is being given high priority and involves a significant level of time and commitment from the relevant staff in the Department. This has had a short-term negative impact on claim processing times which is expected to continue until the completion of the modernisation project when all existing carer’s allowance claims will be transferred onto the new processing system.

Some 7,719 applications are awaiting a decision at present, down from 8,540 at the beginning of September 2011. I acknowledge that the time taken to process carer’s allowance claims at present is not satisfactory but I am satisfied that the Department is taking appropriate steps to resolve the situation. In addition to dealing with the approximately 330 new carer’s allowance applications that are received each week, overtime working is being applied to help reduce backlogs that have built up chiefly as a result of the effort associated with the service delivery modernisation project.

While the new systems and processes will facilitate a significant improvement in overall processing times, it should be noted that the intake of new carer’s allowance applications continues to increase and that individual claims may continue to take some time to process. Entitlement to carer’s allowance is based on satisfying medical, means and residency conditions. In determining entitlement to the allowance, in certain cases unavoidable time lags are involved in making the necessary investigations and inquiries to enable accurate decisions to be made. Delays can also arise if those applying for the allowance are not in a position to supply all the necessary information in support of their claim.

[443]In the meantime, if a person’s means are insufficient to meet his or her needs while awaiting a decision on a claim, he or she can apply for a means tested supplementary welfare allowance payment from their local community welfare officer.

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