Dáil Éireann - Volume 520 - 30 May, 2000
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Code.
Ms Shortall Ms Shortall
73. Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if, in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, it is proposed to produce a user-friendly publication outlining community welfare officer guidelines on the operation of discretion in the supplementary welfare allowance system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15029/00]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): There is a commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to produce a publication in the context of a review of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.  The review is part of my Department's series of programme evaluations and commenced in February 2000. The report outlining the findings is expected to be completed by the end of next year.
One of the key objectives of the review is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current policy and administrative arrangements and to make recommendations for improvements where required. The review will include a widespread process of consultation with users of the SWA service, information providers and other interested parties including the social partners and the health boards who administer the scheme.
The operation of discretion by community welfare officers is an important feature of the SWA scheme. It enables health boards to respond in a flexible and timely manner in a wide range of circumstances where hardship would otherwise occur. This flexibility and responsiveness is one of the main strengths of the scheme and it is made possible by the fact that the health boards can exercise discretion. However, it is not possible or desirable to set out hard and fast rules governing the circumstances in which all of these payments are made. In some categories of cases, there may be no need for the use of discretion because it is clear that the circumstances of the persons concerned warrant a payment.
These matters will be examined in detail by the working group undertaking the review. In particular, the working group will examine whether the correct balance is struck between rules-based entitlements and discretionary payments within the SWA system. It may be possible to identify some needs which can be better met in some other fashion, for example, through improvements in other schemes or through new schemes.
Discretion will remain a fundamental feature of the SWA scheme to meet needs which cannot be met or are not being met through other means. A booklet of comprehensive guidance on discretionary payments such as exceptional needs payments and urgent needs payments was published in 1996. In addition, circulars are issued to health boards from time to time to give guidance on various aspects of the scheme, as the need arises. A user-friendly publication outlining community welfare officer guidelines on the operation of discretion in the supplementary welfare allowance system will be drawn up in the light of the points made in the course of the consultation process and the findings of the review itself.
Dáil Éireann 520 Written Answers. Social Welfare Code.