Written answers

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Department of Social and Family Affairs

Social Welfare Benefits

5:00 pm

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin (Kerry South, Labour)
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Question 158: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason there is such a long delay in processing applications for the carer's allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15691/07]

Photo of Séamus BrennanSéamus Brennan (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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Entitlement to carer's allowance is based on an applicant satisfying medical, means and residency conditions. In determining entitlement to the allowance there are, in certain cases, unavoidable time lags involved in making the necessary investigations and enquiries. Delays can also arise if persons applying for the allowance are not in a position to supply all the necessary information in support of their claim.

It takes fifteen weeks on average at present to finalise claims for carer's allowance. During 2006, the average was just over ten weeks and in 2005, the average was almost thirteen weeks. The reason for the current increase in average claim processing times is the increase in the number of claims being submitted.

The number of claims submitted in 2006 was more than 20% higher than the total for 2005. A number of steps were taken to deal with this, including the deployment of additional staff and a revision of processing procedures to improve efficiency. As a result, the number of claims finalised in 2006 was 9% higher than the total for 2005. While this led to an improvement in average claim processing times compared to the previous year, it did not keep pace with the increase in the volume of new claims. As a result, average claim processing times have lengthened in 2007.

The number of claims submitted so far this year shows a further increase of more than 5% compared to the same period last year. There are over 28,000 carer's allowances in payment at present, compared to 25,000 at the end of 2005 and 23,000 at the end of 2004. There are currently 2,977 cases awaiting a decision, of which 67% were received within the last eight weeks. The majority of claims currently on hands will be processed within fifteen weeks.

Many applicants for carer's allowance are already in receipt of another social welfare payment while their claim is being processed. Such payments will normally continue until entitlement to their carer's allowance is determined. Claimants who are not in receipt of any other social welfare payment may apply for supplementary welfare allowance in the interim period. The resources available to my Department must be deployed to ensure good customer service, to prevent fraud and abuse of the schemes and to achieve value for money.

My Department is engaged in an ongoing process to ensure that available resources are prioritised to the greatest extent possible on front line service delivery and to ensure that the best possible standard of response is provided across the range of schemes and services. The position will continue to be kept under review to ensure that the best possible level of customer service and customer response continues to be provided.

This approach brought about an improvement in claim processing times in 2006, compared to 2005. I am confident claim processing time will improve in the coming months.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Question 159: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if persons (details supplied) in Dublin 5 qualify for rent allowance supplement; and if he will assist them on this issue and on their other entitlements. [15732/07]

Photo of Séamus BrennanSéamus Brennan (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes rent supplement, is administered on behalf of my Department by the Health Service Executive. It provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to eligible persons in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation needs. Certain categories of people are excluded from receipt of rent supplement. These include people where either spouse or partner is engaged in full-time employment that is in excess of 30 hours per week. The Executive has advised that the people concerned were recently in contact with the local community welfare officer. While it is open to them at any time to apply for rent supplement, the information available to the Executive suggests that rent supplement would not be payable in this case. Their Local Community Welfare Officer has referred them to the local authority to have their housing needs assessed.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 160: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position of the case of persons (details supplied) in County Mayo in view of the fact that the requested information was submitted. [15746/07]

Photo of Séamus BrennanSéamus Brennan (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme, which is administered by the Community Welfare Division of the Health Service Executive, is designed to provide immediate and flexible assistance for those in need who do not qualify for payment under other State schemes. Under the legislation governing the scheme, the Health Service Executive may make an exceptional needs payment to people on social welfare or health board payments. This is a once-off payment to meet an unforeseen or special need that cannot be met from a person's basic income. Assistance in the form of an Urgent Needs Payment can be also made to persons who would not normally be entitled to SWA to assist, for example, in cases of flood damage with immediate needs such as food, clothing, fuel, household goods and perhaps shelter. Assistance can be provided in cash or in kind. The HSE has advised that information requested from the persons concerned regarding flood damage to their home has been received in the last week and is now being examined by the local Community Welfare Service. Direct contact will be made shortly with the persons concerned regarding their claim for assistance.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 161: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to his reply to Question No. 346 of 5 April 2007, if the applicant is entitled to a higher rate of supplementary welfare allowance while their application for residency status is still under appeal, or if €19.10 per week is deemed the maximum even in the event of a successful appeal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15801/07]

Photo of Séamus BrennanSéamus Brennan (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The Dublin/Mid-Leinster Area of the HSE has advised that the person concerned is an asylum seeker in receipt of a direct provision allowance of €19.10 granted to her when she resided at accommodation provided previously through the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The HSE has further advised that in view of her moving from direct provision accommodation, the payment of this allowance is subject to review as this payment is normally only made to people in direct provision. However while the person concerned is appealing the refusal of asylum and seeking to remain in the country on humanitarian grounds, the HSE is continuing to pay the amount of €19.10 until her case has been decided by Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform. Pending this she is not entitled to payment under the standard supplementary welfare allowance scheme. Refugees and persons who have been granted leave to remain in the country are entitled to assistance under the social welfare system on the same basis as Irish citizens. For example, they can seek employment but if they are unable to secure employment they may qualify for jobseeker's allowance if they fulfil the standard conditions of being available for, capable of and genuinely seeking work and if their means are below the qualifying limit. Similarly, they may qualify for other supports, such as one-parent family payment, subject to the same conditions that apply to all other applicants for these payments.

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