Wednesday, 7 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
13. Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of committees which have been established by his Department or in co-operation with other Departments to review or examine the operation of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26862/01]
17. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs when the promised review of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme will be concluded and published; if his attention has been drawn to the call made by the trade union, IMPACT, that community welfare officers should have a formal role in co-ordinating anti-poverty services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26822/01]
The supplementary welfare allowance scheme is administered on the Department's behalf by the community welfare service of the health boards. The scheme is currently being reviewed by an inter-departmental working group chaired by my Department as part of its series of expenditure reviews. The working group is composed of representatives from my Department, the Departments of Finance and Health and Children and the health boards. The review is a fundamental appraisal of the scheme aimed primarily at improving customer service and administrative efficiency. All aspects of the scheme will be examined. The review also provides an opportunity to refocus the scheme, and the health boards' community welfare service of which it is part, to become more effective in tackling poverty and social exclusion.
The first stage of the review involved an examination of the objectives of the scheme and included a widespread consultation process. A total of 145 submissions were received from users of the supplementary welfare allowance service, information providers and other interested parties including the social partners, the health boards who administer the scheme and the trade unions representing community welfare officers. All of these submissions, including the submission from IMPACT to which Deputy Gilmore refers, will inform the deliberations of the working group. It is expected that sub-groups will be established to examine the specific issues raised during the consultation process, including the role of the community welfare officer. These officers as well as staff at the Department were invited to  nominate themselves for such groups if they wished to become involved in examining particular issues.
The working group originally expected to complete the review by the end of this year. This will not now be achieved as progress has been slower than anticipated given the number and nature of the issues involved. It is now hoped that the review will be completed by autumn 2002. In parallel with this, I established a needs-assessment group to examine certain issues relating to the payment of reduced rate SWA to people who have means other than cash. This includes asylum seekers who have most of their needs met through the direct-provision system. Another relevant committee is the rent assistance planning group chaired by my Department, which is drawing up detailed proposals for a scheme of rent assistance to be operated by the local authorities. This will have a significant impact on the administration of the SWA rent supplement scheme. The reports from both the needs-assessment group and the rent assistance planning group are expected shortly.
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