Willie wants better social welfare assessment

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Willie O'Dea TD Picture: Keith Wiseman
Willie O'Dea TD Picture: Keith Wiseman

MORE than half the applications for social welfare that were rejected by officials from the Department of Social Protection were subsequently allowed on appeal.

Limerick Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea told the Limerick Post that while he welcomed figures showing that 58 per cent of social welfare appeals made in the first 11 months of 2018 were successful, he questioned why the applications were refused in the first instance.

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“While I appreciate that efforts have been made in recent years to simplify forms and make the process of applying for a social welfare payment more transparent, it is evident from the stats I’ve received that more needs to be done to address the number of social welfare appeals that are being lodged. After all, majority are subsequently resulting in a favourable outcome.

“Significant time and resources are being allocated to the appeals process instead of being given to provide greater assistance to those applying for a welfare payment.”

Deputy O’Dea, who is his party’s spokesman on Social Protection, also raised concern about the significant length of time it is taking for appeals to be processed.

At the end of November, the average processing time for a summary decision on an appeal was 25 weeks, with the length of time for an oral hearing coming in at 30 weeks.

“This is a lengthy wait and is undoubtedly creating significant hardship and stress for people who are waiting for their entitlement to an essential welfare payment to be determined. The Minister certainly needs to make a concerted effort to get the fundamentals of Social Welfare System right and ensure that it is working effectively and efficiently for the people it is supposed to serve.”

The Department of Social Protection explained that there are a number of reasons why a decision, which was refused at first instance, might be successful on appeal and it is not necessarily the case that the first decision was incorrect.

“It is often the case that new evidence is provided with an appeal and that, as a result, the original decision may be revised by the Deciding Officer or Designated Person.

“This was the case in 37.1 per cent of favourable appeal outcomes in 2016; 37.6 per cent of such outcomes in 2017 and 31.5 per cent of such outcomes to the end of November 2018.

“Where the decision was not revised by the Department in light of the appeal contentions, further evidence is often provided by the appellant as the appeal process proceeds and in addition, the Appeals Officer may gain insights when they meet the appellant in person at oral hearing which may influence the outcome of the appeal,” a spokesperson explained.