Social welfare taking longer on appeals

The Social Welfare Appeals Office is taking more than three weeks longer on average to process cases before it, even though the volume of appeals it received fell last year.

The 2017 annual report for the Social Welfare Appeals Office also shows that more than 60% of appeals finalised last year were in favour of the person who brought the appeal.

It also showed last year the average processing time for all appeals finalised was 23.6 weeks — up from 20.5 weeks in 2016.

The average time taken to process appeals which required an oral hearing was 26.4 weeks, more than a fortnight longer on average than the comparable figure for 2016, while the corresponding time to process appeals determined on a summary basis was 19.8 weeks, compared with 17.6 weeks in 2016.

Last year, the office received 19,658 appeals, compared to the 22,461 received in 2016, and according to the annual report the number of appeals finalised in 2017 was 18,980, compared to 23,220 in 2016.

The office also had a higher number of appeals on hand at the end of last year compared with the figure from 12 months previous — 8,616 versus 7,938.

In her foreword to the report Joan Gordon, the Chief Appeals Officer, referred to “the high turnover of appeals officers” in her office, but paid tribute to staff who had worked throughout the year.

“Reducing processing times continues to be one of my priorities and every effort is made to reduce the time taken to process an appeal,” she said.

“However, this must be balanced with the competing demand to ensure that all decisions are of high quality and are made in line with the legislative provisions and the general principles of fair procedures.”

She said there was a number of other staffing changes in 2017 and added: “I continue to work closely with the HR Division of the Department to ensure that vacancies arising are filled as quickly as possible and I very much appreciate the support of the Department in this regard.”

Ms Gordon said the vast majority of appeals relate to the illness, disability and caring and working age income support programmes, with the number of appeals relating to pensions and child income supports low by comparison.

“The reduction in the number of appeals received in 2017 relates primarily to appeals in the working age schemes, with significant reductions in relation to Supplementary Welfare Allowance and Jobseeker’s Allowance,” she said.

Ms Gordon also referred to efforts to see how digital access to information and data can reduce staff reliance on paper-based files.

Out of the 18,980 appeals finalised last year, 60.1% (11,405) of the appeals “had a favourable outcome for the appellant in that they were either allowed in full or in part or resolved by way of a revised decision by a deciding officer in favour of the appellant”.

The report also outlines how 22.6% of the total volume of cases were resolved by way of “revised decisions” — where a deciding officer in the Department revised the original decision in favour of the customer, making it unnecessary for the appeals office to conduct an appeal in the first place.

There were a total of 84 staff working in the Social Welfare Appeals Office last year.


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