Thursday, 14 July 2022
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Social Welfare Appeals
539. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if it is proposed to limit the right of an appellant to the independent social welfare appeals office to seek and obtain an oral hearing; if appeals officers have to seek permission from senior management before granting an oral hearing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39037/22]
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.
Chapter 2 of Part 10 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 and the Social Welfare (Appeals) Regulations 1998 sets down the roles, powers, and functions of the Social Welfare Appeals Office, Appeals Officers and the Chief Appeals Officer. Under Articles 13 and 14 of the Social Welfare (Appeals) Regulations 1998 it is at the discretion of the Appeals Officer whether a summary decision is made or an oral hearing is held in any case.
The Office is committed to enhancing its operations to continue to deliver an efficient and effective appeals service to its customers. To support this goal, a programme of process redesign and modernisation is in progress. This programme includes the development and implementation of an enhanced appeals business process and the development of a new computer system. Consequently, it is now an appropriate juncture at which to review and amend the Regulations underpinning the appeals process which have been in place since 1998. The changes will provide an enhanced appeals service to customers as well as supporting improved administrative arrangements.
Insofar as oral hearings are concerned, the revised Regulations maintain the principle that it is at the discretion of the Appeals Officer as to whether a summary decision is made or an oral hearing is required. The revised Regulations also introduce a requirement on Appeals Officers to consult with a Deputy Chief Appeals Officer on the need for an oral hearing.
Oral hearings have been successfully conducted online or by telephone since October 2020 and these types of hearings will continue. This remote hearing approach has proven to be an effective way of facilitating an oral hearing previously achieved via the holding of an in-person hearing.
540. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the chief appeals officer of the social welfare appeals office has also been given responsibility for the decisions advisory body of the Department itself; the reason for this; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39038/22]
The role of the Department's Decisions Advisory Office (DAO) is to support line sections in seeking to ensure that decisions made on social welfare claims are consistent and of good quality. The DAO provides advice to scheme areas in complex cases and detailed guidelines on decision-making and relevant legislative provisions across the organisation.
At the end of 2020 the Department moved the Decisions Advisory Office to report to the Chief Appeals Officer to further strengthen the learnings from Appeals Officers decisions into the Department’s decision-making process. This change was recognised in the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Management of Social Welfare Appeals published in September 2021.
The new reporting structure strengthens the process by which both the Department and the Appeals Office provide feedback to one another in order to continuously improve the decision making, review and appeal processes. In this regard the DAO will continue to liaise with the Appeals Office through regular meetings to ensure all learnings are fed back into the Department’s decision process and guidelines.