Three-month waiting list for disability allowance incredible and unacceptable
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social, Community and Family Affairs, Seán Crowe
TD has described as “incredible” and “unacceptable” that almost one
thousand people are waiting longer than three months for a determination on
their eligibility for disability allowances. The Dublin South West TD was
reacting to an answer given to him in the Dáil this evening by the Minister
for Social and Family Affairs, Seamus Brennan.
Deputy Crowe had asked the Minister the reason for the delay in applicants
receiving disability allowances and arrears from his Department. He also
asked the Minister if it was staffing issues within the Department that
were the problem and what measures the Minister would take to shorten the
lengthy times it is taking for determinations to be made.
Deputy Crowe said: “This is a very serious matter. We are talking about
vulnerable people in bad health. While I asked this question in relation
to one particular individual, who has been waiting more that three months
for a determination on eligibility for a disability allowance, I find it
incredible that the Minister has admitted that almost one thousand other
people are in a similar situation. This is completely unacceptable.
“Three months is a very long time to be awaiting on vital allowances.
People should not be forced into the position of borrowing money from
friends and families and it must be accepted by the Minister that very many
people, for whatever reason, be it pride or whatever, are not comfortable
approaching Community Welfare Officers for emergency payments.
“These are some the most vulnerable people in society, they are ill and in
need of this money.
“If as it appears from the Ministers response to my question that staffing
issues are a significant part of the problem then it needs to be addressed
with the utmost urgency.” ENDS
FULL TEXT OF EXCHANGE BETWEEN SEÁN CROWE TD AND MINISTER SEAMUS BRENNAN
Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason for
the delay in applicants receiving disability arrears from his Department;
if it is due to a shortage of staff in processing claims; if many
financially vulnerable clients have to wait up to three months for their
entitlements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23813/05]
Mr. Brennan: My Department is committed to providing a quality service to
all its customers. Every effort is made to ensure that customers receive
all their entitlements as soon as possible following application.
Entitlement to disability allowance is contingent on the applicant
satisfying both medical and means conditions. To satisfy the medical
condition customers submit a medical certificate from their general
practitioner. A medical assessor of my Department examines the medical
evidence submitted and, if necessary, asks the person to attend for a
medical examination, to establish if the medical conditions for the scheme
are met. The weekly rate of disability allowance depends on the amount of
weekly means the person has. Means are assessed on the basis of income,
which the person or the person's spouse may reasonably expect to receive in
the year following the date of the claim. An officer of my Department
gathers all the necessary evidence, including documentation, in order to
make an assessment of a person's means. In certain circumstances a home
visit may be necessary before the assessment can be completed.
Inevitably, a period of weeks elapses, while these investigations are
taking place. This results in arrears accruing to the person. However,
once a decision is made on the person's entitlement, the weekly rate is put
into payment, to ensure that the person receives ongoing payments as soon
as they are due. Arrears accruing for the period from date of entitlement
to date of first payment are then computed and issued as soon as is
practicable. Many claimants are in receipt of supplementary welfare
allowance or other primary social welfare payments during this period. The
amount of such overlapping payments must be established and deducted when
computing the net arrears due. Having regard to the time it necessarily
takes to decide on applications for disability allowance in the first
instance and to subsequently calculate and issue the appropriate amounts of
arrears due, it is inevitable that a number of weeks will elapse before
these matters are finalised in any individual case.
One of my Department's priorities is to minimise the time lags, which are
involved in processing new claims and any associated arrears due. Targets
are set for claim processing, including calculation and payment of arrears,
but pressures can arise at certain times due to claim volumes, as a result
of which, these targets are sometimes not met. My Department makes every
effort to ensure, however, that payments are made as quickly and
expeditiously as possible.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
There has been a significant increase in the number of disability
allowance applications that have been received by my Department in the
first six months of 2005. A total of 10,500 applications have been
received, compared with 8,700 in the first six months of 2004. In this
context, priority has, in the first instance, been given to processing
entitlements to the allowance. Consequently some delays have been recently
experienced in the processing of arrears of disability allowance. Staff
resources, which have become available as a result of the successful
completion of another project in the disability allowance area, are being
dedicated to the processing of arrears to reduce the number of cases
awaiting decision. The situation is being and will continue to be closely
monitored to ensure that service improvements are effected.
Mr. Crowe: I will be interested in seeing the additional information. We
are talking about vulnerable people in bad health. The Minister has spoken
of delays in terms of weeks.
I have heard of one particular case where a person was waiting for up to
three months. I have been told there is a problem within the Department
and that people were on long-term sick leave. How long are people actually
waiting? What is the longest waiting period? Is the embargo on public
servants the cause of the problem? There may not be enough people in the
Department processing the forms.
"How many staff are working in this area? Is it a matter of training
people if others are out for the long term? Have people been waiting for
six months? The Minister mentioned that some can go to the community
welfare officer. Many people will not go to the community welfare officer,
due to pride or whatever. I know of one case which was successful in
obtaining arrears with the help of the Department. However, there are many
people who do not want to go down that road and they borrow from families
and others. In light of the difficulties that seem to be emerging in this
section, will the Minister carry out some kind of organisational review?
These are some the most vulnerable people in society, they are ill and in
need of this money.
Mr. Brennan: In the first six months of 2005, 10,500 applications were
received. That compares with a total of 8,700 in the same period last year
so that is quite an increase. Currently, there are 3,422 cases awaiting
calculation of arrears and 2,800 of these are for people who have been
awarded the allowance. A total of 572 cases are for persons who have been
given revised rates of payment. Out of the 3,422 cases in arrears, 925 are
awaiting determination for longer than three months. I am examining
resources as a result of this information."ENDS