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 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Waiting Times (Continued)
 Header Item Local Employment Service

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 981 No. 5

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  11 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty]  The Department is currently processing domiciliary care allowance claims within ten weeks and invalidity claims within seven weeks. Disability allowance claims are taking 14 weeks on average while carer's allowance applications are finally coming down and are now at 15 weeks. That is still three weeks more than our objective for every year.

I wish to reassure the Deputy that claims processing is kept under active review with all possible steps being taken to improve processing times. This includes significant additional resources, where available, and the review of business processes to ensure the efficient processing of applications. For example, additional staff have been temporarily reassigned to the carer's allowance area to work on claims processing. This has led to a reduction of three weeks in the processing times. We are still three weeks away from our target for every year so we still have a good way to go. We are committed to this and looking at it on a monthly basis.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I need not say this to the many people who suffer the anxiety of waiting for a decision on a payment, but the reason they are in the system applying for payment is because their level of income is so low that they rely on the State for help.

I had a young woman before me recently who was literally falling to pieces with grief. She was with her child. She is waiting for a decision on her application for disability payment. She has been waiting for 18 weeks already. She has a partner who earns money. She will be entitled to something – she has been told that much – but the decision has not been made yet. Anyway, it is not necessarily the case that because a partner lives in the same house, that partner will look after the financial needs of the applicant. While the needs of the applicant are not being looked after she is told she has to wait without any interim payment because she is not single.

Other problems arise, including problems to do with the waiting time on appeals for carer's allowance. I have a chart that shows the waiting times are not coming down in any significant way. In January 2018 the waiting time was 26.3 weeks. In January 2019 the waiting time was 28.4 weeks on appeal. Applications for illness benefits in January 2018 took 27.9 weeks on average and in January 2019 the figure was 41.1 weeks. The waiting times are actually going up and that is causing considerable stress.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The first thing I need to say to Deputy Smith is with regard to the lady she referred to. If Deputy Smith gives me her details I will intervene personally.

I need to put on record that anyone or everyone who is waiting for a decision for a payment for any of our schemes is entitled to apply for community welfare through our supplementary welfare allowance. Applicants will get it if they have a means need long before the decision is ever made.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith That is only if a person is single.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty If Deputy Smith wishes to give me the details of the lady later on, I will intervene.

I am not disputing the numbers cited by Deputy Smith. What I am saying is that we have taken several steps to try to remedy the difficulty we have with regard to a number of issues relating to the length of time for appeals.

The first point is that we need to put more staff in the area. We have a cap on our staff. It is only when staff resources become free in one section because they are no longer required that they can be moved to another section. That is what we did with the carer's allowance and our appeals recently. We are also in a recruitment process for deciding officers within our appeals section. When they come on board that will speed things up. We have also engaged extensively with the Carers Association and carer organisations in the past year to simplify our application form to try to make it easier, as we did with the domiciliary care allowance some years ago, a move that resulted in great improvements.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I refute what the Minister has said. Supplementary payments are not available to those who are not single. If a person is living with an applicant in the same household the applicant is not entitled to it.

Let us consider the statistics. It seems there may be a problem with the number of medical officers available to make decisions. It is in the areas of carers, disability and illness where the greatest waiting times exist on initial application and on appeal. Is there a shortage of medical officers?

I wish to bring another matter to the attention of the Minister while I have the opportunity. Does the Minister intend to employ more staff coming up to the summer months? A plethora of people are laid off for the summer, including staff who work in schools, and do not get paid for the summer months. These include everything from secretaries to special needs assistants and so on. They have to apply to go back on unemployment benefit on a temporary basis. Last year we had a queue of them coming in and out the door. They got their payments in September when the schools reopened but they needed their payment in June, July and August. It appears the Department is not ready for these scenarios, which repeat themselves year after year.

I am keen for the Minister to address my specific questions on medical officers, on being ready for people who will be laid off on a temporary basis and on the pattern such that anything requiring a medical decision causes more problems.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty We have a full complement of medical officers. We are not in a recruitment phase. It is not the case that if we had more medical officers it would make it easier or quicker. It is a question of the complexity of the medical evidence that needs to be provided for us. That needs to be adjudicated upon and it is a difficult process. It needs to go back and forth. That is what causes the delay. The most effective way of producing a better outcome is to simplify that process. That is what we did with the Carers Association in the past year in a similar process to the process involving the domiciliary care allowance warriors some years ago. That has given us positive effects. The processing of application times for domiciliary care allowance is now down to seven weeks. The forum works for that and I am positive that the forum will work for this.

I did not say that anyone is entitled to social welfare assistance. I said anyone who has means and who is in need of social welfare assistance can get supplementary welfare allowance on a weekly basis regardless of whether the applicant has a partner. If the partner earns over the threshold, then the person will not get it because they would be sufficiently able to look after themselves. If the partner does not exceed the threshold, the Department is there to step in.

Local Employment Service

 5. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty to outline the timeframe for the upcoming tendering process for the future provision of employment services nationally; the reason active consideration will not be given to a public procurement process despite the success of local employment services in successfully achieving full-time employment for over 28% of referrals each year and the progression of the remaining caseload to part-time jobs and other pathways to work; the reason successful not-for-profit community holistic models are not being given an equal opportunity to tender for the services despite the problems experienced in countries adopting a privatised model; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [15621/19]

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle This question relates to how the Department is proposing to terminate the community-based employment services under the local employment schemes and job clubs in the country by the end of this year. The Department is initiating a competitive procurement process for future services. It is clear from my previous interactions with the Minister that a payment-by-results arrangement as used in JobPath will be the preferred model. I have severe problems with that.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty With respect, before I start reading out my prepared reply I have a question. When did we have the interaction during which I told Deputy Pringle that a payment was my preferred model?

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle We have ongoing interactions.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher You have only two minutes, Minister.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I call on Deputy Pringle to take it back, because it is not the case. That is one of a suite of measures that we offer as part of the State. It does not make it better, but it certainly does not make it worse. It is one of the offerings we have.

We use a number of contracted models to procure public employment services to supplement the service provided directly by case officers as part of Intreo. Local employment services, job clubs and JobPath providers all provide such services under different types of contracts. LES and job clubs are on annual contracts that need to be formally renewed every year. They provide for a paid flat fee not related to outcomes achieved. The JobPath providers are engaged under a payment-by-results model with a four year referral commitment due to conclude at the end of 2019.

My Department and I are currently considering how the services provided for the next generation of people who require activation will be maintained after 2019. In addition, in line with the recommendations of the recently published Indecon report on LES and job clubs, we are examining the possibility of a transition to multi-annual contracts under open procurement competition for these services, incorporating some evidence of performance-based fees. I will be before the Oireachtas Joint Committee this afternoon to discuss the matter. In finalising our views and developing proposals for my consideration, the officials in my Department will continue to engage with the relevant stakeholders, as they have done in recent months, to the extent that is appropriate under public procurement guidelines.

I wish to assure the Deputy that we are going to do everything we can within EU procurement rules to ensure the continuity of the highly valuable services, including local employment services and job clubs, without which we would have been unable to work in recent years.

While the precise format of any future contracts has not yet been decided, what has been decided is that we would not have been able to reduce our unemployment when it was at its height and was handed to us in 2011. A total of 457,000 people were out of work on that day. We had in excess of 200,000 people on the long-term unemployment register. Now the figure is down to what we have today, which is 5.3%. The reduction would have been impossible without the absolute expertise, experience and commitment of the people who work in our local employment services and job clubs.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I take it from what the Minister has said that the tendering process is going to be found that will allow community based programmes to tender. I take it the process will not be totally on a privatised basis. Is that what I can take from the response of the Minister? If that is the case, then it is most welcome but that does not seem to be the way the Department has been going. I call on the Minister to confirm that will be the case and that local employment services will be entitled to tender and apply under the process. I trust they will be given favourable consideration or will be able to compete with privatised firms. I do not think that is the way it will happen but maybe I am wrong or will be proved to be wrong. I would be delighted if the Minister were to prove me wrong.


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