Dáil debates

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Social Welfare Appeals

4:50 pm

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection, and of the Department, and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements. The Department of Social Protection processes around 2 million new claims each year. Approximately 85% of these are successful, in that the customer receives the relevant payment. By comparison, a total of 23,664 appeals were made to the Social Welfare Appeals Office in 2020 and 26,790 appeals were finalised. This was a 19% increase on the 2019 figure of 22,572 finalised appeals. Some 7,795 appeals have been made to the Social Welfare Appeals Office up to the end of April 2021 and 7,637 appeals have been finalised.

The time taken to process an appeal reflects all aspects of the appeal process, including the time spent in the Department reviewing the decision in light of the appeal contentions and-or preparing the appeal submission. Some 20% of cases will be revised in favour of the appellant as a result of this review process. In some cases, further investigation may be required at that point and this can add to the time taken to process an appeal. The quasi-judicial nature of the appeals process impacts the processing times which are proportionate to the complexity of many of the issues under appeal and often require a high level of judgement in addition to the need to ensure due process and natural justice. Appeals may be determined summarily or by means of an oral hearing. When an oral hearing is required, the logistics involved in scheduling the hearing and giving the appellant, and any other witnesses, adequate notice adds to the timeframe involved. Other factors which impact on processing times include increased complexity, an increased demand for oral hearings, and the loss of appeals officer experience and corporate knowledge due to the high number of retirements in recent years.

The output target for 2020 to maintain the number of appeals on hand at the end of the year - between 8,500 and 9,500 - was achieved. The number of appeals waiting to be determined at the end of 2020 was 5,662. This represents a significant decrease of 36% in the number of appeals on hand compared to 2019, when more than 8,700 appeals were on hand at the end of that year. The output target for 2021 is to maintain the number of appeals on hand at the end of the year to between 7,500 and 8,500. The number of appeals on hand at the end of April 2021 was 5,820. The average processing time for all appeals finalised during 2020 was 16.5 weeks. This compares with 24.7 weeks in 2019. The overall average processing time for an appeal dealt with by way of a summary decision in 2020 was 15.5 weeks, as opposed to 22.1 weeks in 2019. The average time taken to process an appeal which required an oral hearing in 2020 was 27.1 weeks. It was 26.9 weeks in 2019.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, in-person oral hearings were suspended in March 2020 and, with the exception of a short period in August-September 2020, remain suspended. The Social Welfare Appeals Office has been holding online and phone hearings since October 2020. Supplementary welfare allowance appeals are prioritised at all stages of the appeal process. In 2020, it took an average of 13.4 weeks for appeals to be determined summarily and 29.3 weeks to determine appeals which required an oral hearing.


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