More families are bringing court challenges against the Department of Social Protection over its refusal to grant them Domiciliary Care Allowance, and in many cases are bypassing the department’s appeals system altogether.
It has emerged that at least 70 cases have been taken by parents to secure the monthly payment on behalf of their children.
The DCA payment is made to the carer of a child with a severe disability who lives at home. Solicitor Gareth Noble of KOD Lyons, which has represented many of those challenging their refusal of DCA, said in recent months approximately 40 cases have been “successfully resolved” on the part of the applicant.
Figures from the Department of Social Protection show that last year a total of 4,829 Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA) applications were received, with 4,404 applications fully processed.
Of those, 2,527 were deemed not to satisfy the qualifying criteria on initial assessment, a process which takes seven weeks. By contrast, appeals can take up to nine months.
A total of 1,688 DCA appeals were registered by the Social Welfare Appeals Office in 2013, with 1,502 appeals decided last year. Of those, 783 were allowed and 25 partially allowed.
There are currently 694 applications pending decision and 736 appeals awaiting decision.
Last year the Irish Examiner revealed that a growing number of families who were refused DCA — worth €309 to a family every month — were going to the High Court in a bid to secure the payment.
More families are now exploring the possibility of legal challenges, while the online Facebook group, DCA Warriors, now has more than 1,900 members.
One family who are part of the DCA Warriors, Sean and Avril Malone from Bagenalstown in Co Carlow, said they were finally granted the DCA payment on behalf of their son after a two-year period in which their initial application was turned down and a judge also ruled in the department’s favour over its refusal of the application. The Malones were then granted the payment via the Social Welfare Appeals Office.
“We never actually spoke to anybody,” Sean Malone said of the application process. “It’s like a lottery. There is no consistency.”
Gareth Noble said: “At the moment statistical analysis clearly demonstrates that if people are given an opportunity to sit down and explain their case to an appeals officer they are more likely to be successful, rather than the desk review.”
He said there had been a number of court judgments that suggested the only way to resolve conflicts of evidence in cases where a family believes it is entitled to the payment and the department thinks otherwise is to provide an oral hearing.
Mr Noble said oral hearings were not always available to applicants, adding: “There are many being turned down without being given the opportunity.”
He said there seemed to be a view among families seeking DCA that to secure the payment they needed to explore the possibility of legal challenges.
“There is definitely a view out there, and it is unfortunate, that in order to vindicate the rights of these children they are forced to come to people like me [for help],” he said.
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