AN INITIATIVE to speed up welfare claims by allowing newly unemployed people certify their own means is being examined.
A pilot scheme is under way in several social welfare branches where officers are approving jobseeker’s allowance claims without referring them to inspectors for means tests.
The trial, if successful, could be rolled out nationwide and see processing times significantly reduced for claimants.
Those approved are being asked to keep evidence such as pay slips and bank statements which may be sought by the Department of Social and Family Affairs in selected cases. More than 60% of claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance have no little or no means to assess, the department said last night.
Speaking at an Oireachtas committee yesterday, Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin said: “In such cases, where there are no elements of self-employment or property involved in the means assessment, the person will self-certify the various components of their means and a decision will be made by the deciding officer without the need to refer the claim to an inspector. It is expected that this initiative will be rolled out to the network of local offices in the coming months.”
At present it takes up to six weeks to decide two out of every three claims for the means tested payment.
Around four in five of PRSI-linked jobseeker’s benefit claims are being decided within three weeks, according to figures for the month of December.
However, there are considerable differences in the delays between dole offices in processing payments.
Ms Hanafin yesterday also revealed that a review was underway in the back to education allowance scheme.
While applicants in the main must be unemployed for 12 months before being able to claim the payment on entering third level education, the department is looking at reducing the amount of time a person must be unemployed before they are eligible. But the minister warned: “We don’t want school students dropping out for a year and then going to college.”
Committee TDs agreed the wait for welfare claims had to be reduced. Many also called for changes in the back to education allowance scheme.
Labour’s Roisín Shortall called for the eligibility period to be reduced from 12 months to three for unemployed people. Fianna Fáil’s Charlie O’Connor said the department needs to look at the scheme flexibly.
Ms Hanafin said possible changes would be introduced in legislation before the next academic year.
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