People with long-term disabilities are increasingly refusing to accept State support rejections — and are ultimately winning lengthy, energy-sapping cases.
Department of Social Protection figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show the number of withdrawn appeals for disability allowance aid has fallen since 2010.
The situation, which shows many affected are insisting they should be helped, has occurred as initial refusals, first-stage recheck rejections and — crucially — full appeal successes, have soared.
However, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has denied opposition party claims there has been a “behind closed doors” change in application assessment.
Between 2006 and 2008, withdrawn appeals ranged from 600 people per year to 568, to 751. These rates accounted for 23%, 19% and 21.5% of all appeals in these years.
The withdrawn rates rose to 859 and 1,133 in 2009 and 2010, despite percentages staying relatively static at 18.5% and 23.5%.
However, in 2011 both the number and percentage of appeals withdrawn dropped drastically to just 175, or 3% of total appeals.
In the first half of this year, a mere 46 appeals were stopped by the claimant — accounting for 1.5% of all appeals.
The major fall-off has occurred since the end of 2010. This is the same period in which initial refusals have risen from 54% to 61%, and first-stage appeal successes fell from 21% to 9%.
While Ms Burton has insisted there has been no change in policy to make it more difficult for people to access the support, during this period one in three full second-stage appeals have been successful.
When withdrawn cases are taken out of the equation, the number of successful full-stage appeals — which doubled in length to an average of a year — has risen from 39% to one out of every two claims.
While the official figures show that those who refuse to accept the initial refusal and the first-stage appeal decisions stand a strong chance of winning their cases, the length of time for this success has risen significantly.
The average time to process a full independent claim has risen from 21-24 weeks between 2006 and 2009 to more than a year today.
Last year, summary decisions took an average of 27 weeks and four days to be heard, with full second-stage oral hearings taking an average of 55 weeks, six days.
While the latter waiting time has dropped this year to 41 weeks, this newspaper has been contacted by people who had to fight 18 months to receive the support.
A department spokes-woman said a “considerable period of time is added when an oral hearing is required because of the logistics involved”, because of its “quasi-judicial nature”.
“The appeal process cannot be a quick one,” the spokeswoman said. She added that the department’s chief appeals officer keeps case appeal standards under “constant review”, and that 12 new officers and 10 more from the HSE have been appointed since 2010.
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