Dáil Éireann - Volume 619 - 11 May, 2006

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Appeals.

Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to improve the transparency of the decision making process regarding the awarding of claims by deciding officers and the appeals process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17685/06]

  Mr. Brennan: Decisions on statutory social welfare schemes are made by statutorily appointed Deciding Officers. They determine entitlement to social insurance and social assistance payments and liability for Pay Related Social Insurance contributions in accordance with the Social Welfare Consolidation Act, 2005 and associated regulations. Decisions on supplementary welfare allowance are made by officers appointed by the Health Service Executive.

Guidelines are issued by my Department in relation to the legislation concerned to ensure consistency of decision making by Deciding Officers throughout the Department. In line with my Department’s policy to promote the provision of information, these guidelines are also available on the Department’s website (www.welfare.ie) and on request from any social welfare local office.

Training is provided to Deciding Officers on their statutory obligations and on the application of principles of natural justice and fair procedures in making decisions on entitlements. The need for transparency in the decision-making process by Deciding Officers is also reflected in legislation. Regulations provide that decisions on social welfare claims must be set out in writing and, where the decision is unfavourable, the reasons for the decision must also be recorded and included in the notification to the person concerned. The rules of natural justice and fair procedures are applied by Deciding Officers when making decisions that could have an adverse effect on the person concerned. The Deciding Officer must satisfy him/herself that the person is aware of all [713] the information that could adversely affect his/her entitlement; the person was notified that his/her entitlement was under review; the person was given an opportunity to comment and to submit any facts or information to correct any inaccuracy or incompleteness in the information; and any comments made by the person are clearly and fully considered before a decision is made.

Every person who is dissatisfied with a decision made by a Deciding Officer, on a claim to a social welfare payment, has a statutory right of appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. The Social Welfare Appeals Office provides an independent adjudication service to members of the public who are dissatisfied with decisions made by Deciding Officers in relation to their social welfare entitlements. The Office deals with approximately 12,000 appeals annually. The Appeals Office fully recognises the importance of transparency in the provision of its service and the appeals process is designed to ensure that it provides that service in an open and transparent way consistent with protecting the privacy of individual appellants. There is a statutory requirement for Appeals Officers to give reasons in every case where the outcome is unfavourable to the appellant. The Appeals Office provides information on its decisions at a number of different levels.

The annual report of the Chief Appeals Officer provides detailed information on appeals outcomes, broken down over the full range of departmental schemes and services. The report also includes a number of case studies which are representative of the types of cases received and decisions given or where the issue is noteworthy. The purpose of selecting cases for publication in this way is to provide an insight into the issues that give rise to appeals and to clarify the process by which appeals are determined, whether by way of summary decision or following an oral hearing.

In addition to a right of appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office, a claimant may seek in the first instance a review of the decision by a Deciding Officer of the Department, if there are any new facts or evidence that have not been taken into consideration when the initial decision was made. This facility was introduced in 2002 and provides a means of having any adverse decisions reviewed quickly where new evidence becomes available. The Deciding Officer, following a re-examination of the case, may revise it without it having to go through the formal appeals process. To this end, persons are advised of their right to seek a review of the initial decision. The person retains the right to have his or her claim dealt with by way of appeal if they are dissatisfied with the decision following the review.

Where a person is dissatisfied with a decision on a supplementary welfare allowance claim, s/he may appeal in the first instance to the Health Service Executive Appeals Officer and if dissatis[714] fied with the decision, can then appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.