‘Dramatic’ increase in welfare appeals

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has admitted that appeals against welfare decisions have increased "dramatically" as opposition TDs blamed government cuts for the rise.

‘Dramatic’ increase in welfare appeals

The number of appeals lodged has more than doubled from 15,000 after the recession first bit in 2009 to 32,777 last year.

People challenging decisions have to wait more than 29 weeks for an oral hearing, but this is down from 52 weeks in 2012.

Independent TD Thomas Broughan, who quit Labour over cuts, urged Ms Burton to take on more staff to deal with the backlog, which he says is causing real hardship.

Mr Broughan said the 15 extra appeals officers assigned over the past three years is wholly inadequate. “This huge rise in appeals is clearly due to the cuts and changes this Government has brought in in order to meet its targets,” he said.

“People are very upset at the length of time these appeals are taking. The Government needs to deal with this situation.”

Ms Burton insisted her department is tackling the problem. “The workload of the appeals office has increased dramatically in recent years. This has placed considerable pressure on the office.

“Significant effort and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeals process to manage this increased workload, reduce backlogs, and improve appeals processing times for appellants, while, at the same time, recognising the need to ensure that quality and fairness are not compromised.

“There are no plans at this point to further increase the number of appeals officers in the Social Welfare Appeals Office. A new operating model has been introduced in the appeals office and a major programme of process redesign and modernisation is also underway.

“The number of appeals cases processed in 2013 increased by 18%. The average processing time for appeals peaked in 2011 when the average time for an oral hearing was 52.5 weeks and for a summary decision was 25.1 weeks.

“In 2012 the average time for an oral hearing dropped to 39.5 weeks and the time for a summary decision increased slightly to 27.8 weeks.

“This improvement has continued in 2013 with the processing time reducing to 33.9 weeks for an oral hearing and 25.8 weeks for a summary decision. Processing time has continued to improve in 2014. As at April 30, 2014, the time taken to process an appeal requiring an oral hearing had reduced to 29.7 weeks and 22.6 weeks for a summary decision.

”Measures have also led to a significant increase in the number of appeals finalised in the appeals office from 17,787 in 2009 to 38,421 in 2013. An additional 5,863 appeals were finalised in 2013 compared to 2012,” Ms Burton said in a parliamentary response.

More in this section