Issue 31

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Delays in social welfare appeals

Delays in social welfare appeals were the subject of a topical debate issue raised by Anne Phelan (Lab, Carlow Kilkenny) (Dail Eireann, Debates, 28th March 2012, 68-70), who was critical of the ‘significant backlog’ that had built up.  Appeal periods had risen from 18 weeks in 2009 to 25 weeks last year, while the waiting time for an appeal had risen from 34 weeks to more than a year.  Appeals had risen from 15,000 a year to 32,000.  This was putting great pressure on people.  Responding, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton,  described the situation as unacceptable, so she had signed in more appeals officers and raised the capacity to finalize decisions from 13,500 in 2010 to 34,027 in 2011, but as the new technology system began to work its way in, there had been a deterioration in processing times while the office cleared the backlog.  Delays peaked at 25 weeks for a summary hearing and 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing, but this had now been reduced to 22.4 and 38 weeks.  Appeals were dealt with in chronological order, but in the scheme of last resort, supplementary welfare allowance appeals were given priority: here, it took six weeks to process summary cases and 17 weeks for an oral hearing.  Anne Phelan cited the case of a man in Carlow whose rent allowance had ceased in July 2011, he appealed in August 2011, his appeal took place eight months later and meantime he had arrears of €2,500.  The minister, in her final comments, emphasized the importance of better information in the first instance, leading to better decisions and as a result, fewer appeals.