Thursday, 8 December 2005
Department of Social and Family Affairs
Social Welfare Benefits
Question 163: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason there is a delay in deciding cases under the habitual residency rule, which applies to persons living outside the State for two years; if his attention has been drawn to the hardship this is creating for some applicants; his plans to do to reduce the waiting time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38605/05]
The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1 May 2004. A central unit was set up to monitor the implementation of the habitual residence condition. An important function of the central unit is to make decisions on complex cases. The unit also provides advice and support, on an ongoing basis, to staff in social welfare offices and scheme areas. This includes circulation of guidelines and updates on the administration of the scheme as appropriate. Decisions to the effect that applicants satisfy the habitual residence condition are made in the majority of cases at claim acceptance stage by deciding officers at local level throughout the country.
Since 1 August 2005, decisions on child benefit cases have been dealt with in child benefit section in Letterkenny and from 7 November 2005, decisions on disability allowance and carer's allowance have been made in Longford headquarters. At present, decisions on complex cases for other scheme types are being made in the central unit. In the period from May 2004 to 2 December, a total of 25,026 complex cases have been decided. Some 75% of these cases were found to satisfy the habitual residence condition.
My Department has carried out a number of measures to reduce the time taken to process complex cases dealt with in the central unit. These include the deployment of additional temporary staff, the use of overtime and the setting up of fast tracking decision for cases where appropriate. These measures, combined with the devolution of decision-making on all child benefit, disability allowance and carer's allowance cases to the relevant scheme section have achieved a significant reduction in the number of cases on hand in the central unit and claim processing times.
The operation of the habitual residence condition has been kept under review by officials of my Department since its introduction. The purpose of the review is to assess the impact of the condition on different categories of claimants, the organisational arrangements and the level of service provided to customers, to identify opportunities for improvements in the administration of the scheme and identify emerging policy issues and consider how these should be addressed.