Thursday, 7 November 2013
Department of Social Protection
Invalidity Pension Appeals
125. To ask the Minister for Social Protection the reason a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim will have to wait over two years for a decision on their appeal for an invalidity pension. [47510/13]
The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an invalidity pension appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 21 October 2013. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. When these have been received from the Department, the case in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral appeal hearing.
There has been a rapid and sustained increase in the number of appeals received in the Social Welfare Appeals Office since 2009 which has placed extraordinary pressure on the office. Up to 2009, the average number of appeals received was 15,000 per annum whereas in 2012, the office received 35,484 appeals. In order to manage this increasing workload, significant resources and efforts have been put into reducing backlogs and improving appeals processing times for appellants, including the assignment of 15 additional Appeals Officers, in addition to 10 former Community Welfare Service Appeals Officers who joined the appeals office in 2011, bringing the total number of serving Appeals Officers to 41; reviewing and improving business processes; and implementing a new operating model within the appeals office. In addition, a major programme of process redesign and modernisation is underway in the Department in relation to many of its scheme areas, aimed at reducing backlogs and reducing the time taken by the Department to respond to requests from the appeals office for submissions in relation to appeals.
These measures have led to improvements in processing times and a significant increase in the number of appeals finalised from 17,787 in 2009 to 32,558 in 2012. The Chief Appeals Officer expects to finalise 6,000 more cases in 2013 than in 2012. Good progress is also now being made in reducing the number of appeals on hand from 20,414 at 1 January 2013 to 15,981 at 1 November 2013. 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 processing times improved by 10.3 weeks when the average time for an oral hearing dropped to 39.5 weeks while the time for a summary decision increased slightly to 27.8 weeks. This improvement has continued with the average processing time up to October 2013 reducing to 34.9 weeks for an oral hearing and 26.3 weeks for a summary decision.
A similar trend is reflected in processing times for invalidity pension appeals. In 2010 the average processing time for an invalidity pension oral hearing was 59.7 weeks while a decision requiring a summary decision took an average of 40 weeks. This had improved to 48.7 and 38.8 weeks respectively in 2012 and has further improved (up to October 2013) to 41.7 and 35.1 weeks respectively. Appeal processing times are calculated from the registration date of the appeal to the date of its finalisation. They include all activities during this period including time spent awaiting any clarification from the appellant, time in the Department for comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal put forward by the appellant, and any further investigation, examination or assessment by the Department’s Inspectors and Medical Assessors that is deemed necessary. A considerable period of time is added to the process when an oral hearing is required because of the logistics involved in this process. While this process carries an inherent delay in terms of finalising an appeal, it also crystalises the flexibility and accessibility of the appeals system.
By its nature and because it is a quasi-judicial function, the processing of appeals takes time and reflects the fact that, by definition, the appeal process cannot be a quick one. 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.