However, families receiving the payment for their children have said they are concerned about the possibility of future reviews.
The DCA payment worth €309 to a family every month is made to the carer of a child with a severe disability who lives at home. In recent years, dozens of families have brought High Court cases against the Department over claims that the decision to refuse the payment was unfair, with more than half of all applications rejected at the initial stage.
However, new figures from the department show that, last year, 5,166 DCA applications were processed, with 1,369 refused on initial assessment.
That compares with 4,404 applications processed in 2013, of which 2,527 — more than half — were turned down. In percentage terms, the rate of refusal last year was 26.5%, compared with 57% in 2013.
In the High Court last year, 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 High Court decision is being appealed to the Supreme Court.
The solicitor for the woman in the case, Gareth Noble, has also brought a number of other cases on behalf of people in the Facebook group ‘DCA Warriors’, which now numbers more than 4,000 people.
Mr Noble said the fall in the rate of refusal perhaps indicated that with no reviews of existing payments being carried out, greater resources were allocated to deciding new applications.
He said: “I think we have seen substantial progress around a host of areas through the efforts of a lot of people, demanding better accountability and better decision making.”
A long-standing criticism of DCA decisions, in addition to the high rate of refusal, was the large proportion of refusals then overturned on appeal and the length of the appeals process.
Figures for last year show that of the 1,193 DCA appeals received, 701 were allowed and another 25 partially allowed. Mr Noble said this “fully vindicated” the decision of parents to bring appeals, even though it can take up to 29 weeks for the process to be completed, on top of the initial 10 weeks for the initial DCA application to be heard.
Mr Noble, who works with KOD Lyons, said a number of people associated with the DCA Warriors group were concerned at the prospect — pending any future decision in the Supreme Court — of reviews resuming, with some parents fearing they may have to “go back to the start of the process”. He said that, because of a lack of State intervention in some cases, even at review stage, many families had to spend money on accessing private services to ensure they maintain the payment on behalf of their children.
Mr Noble said the criteria to secure a DCA payment was “onerous” and waiting times for basic services so lengthy that parents often had little option but to pay for private assessments and support. He said any future reviews of cases that, for example, involved children with autism, would strike fear in parents who worried over “having to go through the entire process again”.