Dáil Éireann - Volume 499 - 02 February, 1999

Written Answers - Social Welfare Appeals.

102. Ms McManus asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans, if any, he has to introduce new resources and regulations to eliminate backlogs in the social welfare appeals system. [2610/99]

277. Mr. Kenneally asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the steps, [998] if any, he is taking to clear up the back-log of hearings that exists in the social welfare appeals office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2555/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 277 together.

The social welfare appeals process is quasi-judicial. The procedures involved are provided for in the social welfare Acts and regulations. Also, the rules of natural justice, as formulated by case law in the courts and applicable to the operation or administrative tribunals, must be observed at all stages. These statutory procedures are designed to ensure that every appellant's case gets full and satisfactory consideration.

The procedures give all parties to the appeal, but principally the appellant, the right to understand fully the basis of the decision under appeal and to make his/her views known. Where necessary, this may involve an oral hearing to afford the person the opportunity to present his/her case in person.

In some cases these procedures can enable a speedy resolution of the appeal as the deciding officer may make a revised decision on foot of the grounds of appeal. Over 20 per cent of appeals cleared in 1998 were disposed of in that manner.

The procedures also enable many outstanding issues to be clarified following which the appeals officer may be in a position to make a decision on the basis of the documentary evidence without the need for an oral hearing.

The appeals procedures are carried out as promptly as possible and an appeal hearing is conducted in as informal a manner as possible consistant with the rights of the appellant being fully protected at all times.

During 1996 and 1997 there was a build up in the number of appeals on which work was in progress at any time and this position was exacerbated by a considerably higher number of appeals being received in 1997 and 1998.

Four appeals officer appointments were made in the second half of 1997. Appeals officers are appointed from the assistant principal grade and where such resources become available they are used to best effect throughout the Department, including assignment to the social welfare appeals office. Over 1,000 more appeals were determined in 1998 than in 1997.

The position in regard to appeals is kept under constant review by the chief appeals officer and my Department.