33% of disability refusals overturned after full appeals

One in three disability allowance refusals was overturned after lengthy, full appeals last year — despite 90% of early rechecks claiming the original decision was correct.

New Department of Social Protection figures provided after the Irish Examiner revealed a recession-era refusals surge, show these cases are increasingly overturned when brought to costly, year-long appeals.

The details have added further fuel to claims, denied by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, that cost-cutting “stealth barriers” are in place to prevent people from accessing the support.

According to the official figures, between 2006 and 2011 the number of turned down application appeals rose from 2,622 to 5,472.

Of this rate, refusals “revised” by the deciding officer when extra evidence was provided dropped sharply from 771 in 2006, and a 2008 boom-era high of 1,103, to 627 last year.

This is a success-rate fall in first-stage appeals of 29% in 2006 to just 11.5%.

However, despite the drop, when blocked claimants persisted in seeking a full independent appeal — which can take 18 months to be heard — success rates surged from 28% to 37%.

The largest differences in first and second stage appeals have occurred sinceJan 2011, a period when initial rejections have risen sharply.

Last year, 37% of full appeals proved successful, despite 88.5% of early rechecks saying they were illegitimate.

In the first half of this year, 29% of full appeals again proved successful despite 91% of early rechecks reviews saying applicants should not be helped.

The second appeal success rates are based on all appeals made, including those withdrawn by the claimants. Since 2006, withdrawn appeals have dropped from a 2006-2009 average of 700 to 175 in 2010 and just 46 this year to date.

The change suggests claimants are increasingly refusing to accept being turned down for support despite a surge in initial refusals and first stage appeal rejections.

When the withdrawn appeals are taken out of the equation, the success rate for second stage full appeals between 2006 and 2011 stands at: 44%, 46%, 47%, 49%, 39%, 37% and 49% for the first half of this year.

News of the apparent contradiction in initial, first and second stage decisions came after claims it is increasingly difficult to access disability allowance financial help.

The claims were made by Fianna Fáil and backbench Fine Gael TDs after this newspaper revealed application rejections have surged from 40% during the boom years to 61% in 2012.

Ms Burton said there was no change in the decision criteria during this period.

However, the figures have added to concerns people with genuine disabilities are wrongly suffering from a wider Department of Welfare fraud crackdown.

During the period examined, the latest official figures also confirm the average length of time for a full appeal rose from 21 weeks in 2006 to 27 weeks last year, with a full oral hearing average waiting time of 55 weeks in 2011.

A Department spokesperson said 12 new appeals officers have been appointed since 2010 to “reduce the processing times”, while 10 more HSE officers have been transferred to the system.

The disability allowance application refusals rise caused a political storm when it was revealed last week.

However, while Fianna Fáil has claimed it is a strictly Fine Gael-Labour Government issue, the actual rise in initial rejections during the coalition’s time in power (2011-first quarter of 2012) is 58% to 61%.

The rise between 2008 and the end of 2010, when Fianna Fáil was the main government party, was 40% to 54%.


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