Tuesday, 30 May 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
56. Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of appeals which are on hand in respect of each category of social welfare payments; the average time it is taking to process and complete the appeals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11463/00]
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): In the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 30 April 2000 there were 7,126 appeals outstanding on which work was in progress at various stages of the appeals process.
|Unemployment, Means Issues||618|
|Unemployment Benefit and Assistance||1,341|
|Old Age Pensions||277|
|One-Parent Family Payments
(including Lone Parent's Allowance)
The total of 15,465 appeals received during 1999 represented an increase of more than 10% on the number, 14,014, received in 1998. So far this year the rate of increase has accelerated, with receipts for the first four months showing an increase of 22% over the same period last year.
The average time taken to process appeals determined during 1999 was 21 weeks. This average has been maintained during the first three months of 1999 despite the increase in appeals received. The average period given includes all phases of appeals including the additional time involved in the determination of appeals where, for example, further investigations have to be made or where adjournments have been sought by the appellant or by the legal representative acting on his behalf.
The social welfare appeals system is a quasi-judicial one and the procedures involved are designed to ensure that every appellant's case gets full and satisfactory consideration. There is an inevitable time-lag inherent in such a process which is governed by statutory and fair procedure requirements.
 In some cases appeals can be dealt with on the basis of information supplied by the appellant and the Department's deciding officer without recourse to an oral hearing and these would take less than the average time. Where an oral hearing is required, however, an additional delay is inevitable.
While processing times in the social welfare appeals office compare favourably with international experience in this area, the achievement of further improvement in these times is a major objective of the office. However, at all times it is necessary to ensure that progress in this regard is achieved in a manner that is not in conflict with or at a cost to the demands of justice and the requirement that every appeal be fully investigated and examined on all its merits.
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