There was a big increase in the number of families applying for domiciliary care allowance last year — and also a rise in the percentage of those applications that were rejected.
The allowance is worth €309 to a family every month and is made to the carer of a child with a severe disability who lives at home. It has been the subject of debate in recent years due to the high level of rejections, such as in 2013 when more than half of all applications were refused at the first stage.
Last year’s figures show that 6,422 allowance applications were received, and 6,313 were fully processed. Of those, 2,102 were refused — almost exactly one third. That compares with 5,166 applications processed in 2014, with 1,369 refused on initial assessment — a refusal rate of 26.5%.
Such was the outcry over the high rate of refusal in recent years that some families brought cases to the High Court, while Social Protectoin Minister Joan Burton launched a review of the process. It also transpired that a large proportion of cases initially turned down were later granted on appeal.
Last year, a total of 1,720 appeals were dealt with — including 462 carried over from 2013 — and 1,158 were dealt with in the calendar year. Of those, 924 were fully or partially allowed, in some cases following receipt of further information or correspondence with the applicant. Some 571 appeals were allowed in full.
Just 226 appeals were disallowed, in percentage terms an even smaller amount than in the previous year, when 1,193 care allowance appeals were received and 726 were either fully or partially allowed.
Gareth Noble, a solicitor with KOD Lyons, brought legal actions over refusal of the allowance. He said: “No matter what way you look at it there seems to be a huge number of appeals heard by the Social Welfare Appeals Office.”
He said there was “widespread dissatisfaction” over how the decisions on eligibility were made and added: “It is very regrettable in the circumstances that they have not learned their lessons from this, that the refusal rate has gone up in circumstances where it seems success on appeal has gone up.”
In the High Court in 2014, Mr Justice Max Barrett demanded the department review its decision to deny a woman a domiciliary care allowance for her autistic son after finding there was “an abdication of statutory duty” by the deciding officer in the case, with the department ultimately stopping reviews of existing payments.
The department has appealed that decision and a verdict is due at the Court of Appeal in February.
The Facebook group DCA Warriors, formed by people who felt they had been denied the payment, now has 7,800 members, and Mr Noble said the growth in numbers in the group was “absolutely astounding”, adding that he was still “flat out” with a number of cases over the allowance involving either the Department of Social Protection or the Social Welfare Appeals Office.
Margaret Lennon of DCA Warriors said many people who may qualify for the payment were unaware of it and some had repeatedly failed to secure it before finally doing so. However, she said there was now an increased focus within the group on issues in the education system, such as appropriate use of resource hours. She said parents can sometimes feel isolated in seeking greater supports for their children and boards of management can become “defensive” when challenged.
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