Dáil Éireann - Volume 677 - 05 March, 2009

Written Answers. - Departmental Staff.

Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the amount of the 115 additional staff announced by her in December 2008 to deal with the rising number of social welfare applications, who have been fully trained; the number who have taken up their new post; the number who are full time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9151/09]

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her estimate of the number of extra staff required to meet the backlog of jobseeker claims in order that waiting times are reduced to one week at all local and branch social welfare offices. [9267/09]

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of additional staff that will be added to social welfare offices to address the delays in processing welfare payments. [9246/09]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: I propose to take Questions Nos. 42, 49 and 74 together.

In May 2008 an additional 31 staff were assigned to local offices to deal with the increased volume of claims all of these staff are in place.

Following on from this a further staffing review was undertaken in October and an additional 115 were allocated. By late February 83 of these staff were in place and start dates have been agreed for a further 12 in early March.

In addition to this a separate staffing review was undertaken in Cork local office resulting in the allocation of 12 extra staff.

As many local offices are very close to capacity as regards accommodating further staff, we have decided to set up a number of central decision units around the country. Four such units are currently being set up in Dublin, Sligo, Finglas and Carrick-on-Shannon. Each unit will have 10 staff and the Department expects that all of these staff will be in place within the next few weeks. Work has recently commenced on setting up a further unit in Roscommon and this unit should be operational within the next two months or so.

A number of offices have a particularly high volume of claims awaiting a decision. In order to deal with this, 32 additional temporary staff were recruited with effect from 2 March to support these offices.

[328] A further 16 Social Welfare Inspectors are being assigned to various locations throughout the country to undertake means testing and other work associated with processing claims for the jobseeker’s allowance. This brings the total additional staff being assigned to 246.

There is a significant training overhead associated with staff coming into local offices due to the complex nature of the jobseeker’s schemes. This is particularly so when a person is coming from another Department and may not have any Social Welfare background whatsoever. While a certain amount of formal training is provided, the bulk of the training is “on-the-job”. It takes many months for a deciding officer to get up to speed with all the various aspects of the schemes administered in local offices. In the meantime they rely on assistance from their more experienced colleagues to guide them in the learning process. Consequently, there is a certain amount of lost productivity while new staff acquire the necessary expertise of experienced Deciding Officers.

It is also recognised that the provision of additional staff in itself will not deal with the rising claim load. Since early 2008 we have been examining all aspects of the work associated with the processing of claims and streamlining them wherever possible without, of course, compromising our scheme controls. Examples of process improvement initiatives introduced recently include:

A streamlined process for people who had a claim in the previous 2 years

Application forms for the jobseeker schemes are now available on the Department’s website. This means that anyone who wants to make a claim can print the form at home and bring it to the local office completed. This helps reduce queuing times.

More straight-forward procedures for providing evidence of identity and address have been introduced

We will shortly be introducing a more streamlined procedure for claimants moving to jobseeker’s allowance when their jobseeker’s benefit expires.

We have introduced an appointment system for taking claims in some offices and plan to extend this to other offices over the coming months.

Becoming unemployed and having to claim a jobseeker’s payment is a difficult time for people. By introducing these initiatives I am trying to ensure that the process is as easy as it possibly can be for people.

I am satisfied that the range of measures I have outlined are sufficient to ensure that, in time, all claims for jobseeker’s payments will be processed without undue delay. In this context I would point out that, taking account of the processes involved in determining entitlement to jobseeker’s allowance, including the assessment of means which may involve a home visit, it would not be possible to process such claims within one week as suggested by the Deputy.

Question No. 43 answered with Question No. 39.