Every office in the country might be awash with cutbacks but at the local Department of Social and Family Affairs offices, they have never been busier.
There’s more overtime than staff can cope with and temporary staff in several offices have had their contracts extended. Furthermore, at least 115 new staff are to be drafted into the sector due to the rapid increases in unemployment.
It is understood that some clerical staff will be redeployed from other parts of the public sector but dozens more positions are to be advertised in newspapers. Up to 1,200 staff are already employed at the country’s 48 dole offices.
But, such are the demands on existing staff, that claims are taking up to 12 weeks to process in some parts of the country. On average, though, the wait is still a staggering six weeks.
Officials from the Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU) have been in talks with the department on the issue for most of the year.
CPSU assistant secretary general Derek Mullen said there “is a staggering need for new staff”.
“There has been a substantial increase in the claims load with the bulk of the claims being job seeker benefit, job seeker allowance and one-parent benefit. Staff are under huge pressure and that is affecting new claims and leading to some of the long queues that have been in newspapers. This is not a service that can be cut back,” he said.
This increased pressure on local social and family affairs offices had impacted on community welfare officers who have reported a sharp increase in requests for emergency help as the newly unemployed are forced to wait for their cheques to be processed.
A spokesman for the department said it has allocated 31 more staff to the area and confirmed 115 more are to be recruited.
“The department is committed to ensuring applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are issued as expeditiously as possible,” he said.
Increase in claimants between February 2008 and September 2008.
* Cork: 25% increase in claim load with the numbers seeking benefits rising from 12,000 to 15,000
* Clondalkin, West Dublin: 22% increase with numbers rising from 6,100 to 7,500.
* Tallaght: 35% increase with numbers rising from 6,900 to 9,300.
* Limerick: 23% increase with numbers reaching 11,000 from 8,900.
* Kilbarrack, North Co Dublin: 50% increase in claims with numbers spiraling from 3,000 to 4,500.
* Waterford: 19% increase from 8,500 to 10,200 claimants.
* Galway: 23% increase from 8,500 to 10,500 signing on.