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Written Answers - Social Welfare Benefits

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 117.  Deputy Seán Conlan Information on Sean Conlan Zoom on Sean Conlan  asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  her views that a delay of eight months and more in the processing of carer’s allowance applications is acceptable; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7369/12]

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 to quarter ended 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.

Although the average processing time is not at the eight month level indicated by the Deputy I share his concern at the length of time taken to process Carers’ claims. I am however satisfied that the Department is taking a number of initiatives that will see performance improve over the coming months.

As mentioned above, a major service delivery modernisation project is underway 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.

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. As a consequence the Department has made progress in addressing claim backlogs with the number of applications awaiting a decision at present down by 12% from 8,540 at the beginning of September 2011 to 7,552 in January.

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. Entitle[155]ment 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.

Finally, 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.

 118.  Deputy Seán Conlan Information on Sean Conlan Zoom on Sean Conlan  asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  the steps she will take to shorten processing times for social welfare applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7370/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton My Department is committed to delivering the best possible service to its customers. All scheme areas are subject to continuous business process improvement supported by modern technology, the potential of which is continuously harnessed and applied to maximum effect. Claims are processed in the most efficient and expeditious way possible, having regard to the eligibility conditions that apply to each scheme and to ensure insofar as is possible that funding is targeted at those most in need.

Processing times vary across schemes because of both the volume of applications and the differing qualification criteria. For example, means assessments are required for all of the social assistance schemes; medical examinations are required for some of the illness related schemes and customers must also satisfy the habitual residence conditions. In the case of the insurance-based schemes, it may be necessary to ascertain details of foreign insurance records.

In managing these issues the Department has also had to adapt to a large increase in the volume of claims as economic conditions deteriorated and the scope of schemes was expanded. In order to meet this challenge, the department has embarked on a major programme of process redesign and modernisation, including the deployment of new computer systems. Arrangements have also been made to augment Departmental resources and increase the staff numbers available to process claims.

For example, since May 2008, 900 staff have been assigned to my Department, mainly through the transfer and redeployment of staff from other Government departments. These staff have filled additional posts and critical vacancies in local offices, support units, scheme areas and the Department’s inspectorate. In addition, the Department has recruited new medical assessors and appointed additional staff to the social welfare appeals office. The Department also makes judicious use of overtime and employs temporary staff as appropriate to address particular service issues as they arise.

In order to offer a more streamlined, efficient and integrated service to customers, the Department is also undergoing a process of intensive organisational change in establishing the new National Employment and Entitlements Service (NEES). The establishment of the NEES under the management of my Department brings together the Community Welfare Service (CWS), the Employment Services and Community Employment Programmes of FÁS, the Rural Social Scheme and Community Services Programme from the Department of Community, Equality and the Gaeltacht and the Redundancy and Insolvency Schemes from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.

It is my intention that the NEES will integrate all employment and benefit support services in a single delivery unit. This new service will provide a coherent integrated and more personal[156]ised service to customers and will help minimise the duplication that characterised services which were provided separately in the past.

 119.  Deputy Brian Walsh Information on Brian Walsh Zoom on Brian Walsh  asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  if the employer job, PRSI, incentive scheme is to be extended for 2012; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7374/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton This matter is being considered in the context of the 2012 Action Plan for Jobs.


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