Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Three-month waiting list for disability allowance incredible and unacceptable

30 June, 2005

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



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

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