Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has denied imposing “stealth barriers” aimed at limiting the number of people being granted disability allowances.
Ms Burton hit back at claims by Fianna Fáil that a “behind closed doors” policy of obstruction has been imposed by her department after the Irish Examiner revealed that refusal rates had climbed from 54% to 61% in the first quarter of 2012.
The minister said that “nothing underhand” was going on and no secret change in the criteria for the allowances had been made.
Ms Burton said a rise in the number of claimants for the benefit had resulted in increased refusals.
“Up to the year 2000, less than 50,000 people got disability. Today the figure is twice that. It is running at well over 100,000, so there is an enormous volume of applications,” she told RTÉ.
Responding to claims from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that delays of up to 40 weeks for carers seeking payments had been imposed due to new criteria, Ms Burton said that no changes had occurred and the waiting time was due to proper procedure being followed.
“By law, the officials in the Department of Social Protection are required to examine the application and to make a judgment. And if they require some kind of medical documentation to support the application and that’s not there at the beginning, then inevitably people are going to face long delays.”
Ms Burton said a new computer system due to go into operation next month would speed up the process for carers.
The minister has come under criticism from across the Dáil as a government TD, Fine Gael’s Simon Harris, described parts of the benefits system for disabled and vulnerable as being in “crisis”.
He expressed anger at the system which can demand a vulnerable 16-year-old on the autistic scale to go before a medical board and explain why they should be eligible for benefits after being cut off from the domiciliary care allowance.
Mr Harris said he felt the sharp rise in the refusal rate for disability allowance was partly due to the “cumbersome” nature of the application forms.
Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea warned that, at current rates, 15,000 applicants would be turned down for disability allowance this year.
The Department of Social Protection insisted that the criteria had not changed, but more than 4,800 applications failed in the first four months of this year.
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