Social welfare appeals system criticised
on 24/10/2012 09:05:01
A report by the legal rights group FLAC found that people can wait for more than a year for an oral hearing into why their application for social welfare has been declined.
The waiting time for a decision following a written appeal averages at around 32 weeks.
FLAC has also criticised what it says is a lack of consistency and transparency in how decisions are made.
Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly launched the report, entitled 'Not Fair Enough', along with a trio of factual guides on various aspects of the social welfare system, in Dublin's Mansion House this morning.
Launching the report, the Ombudsman drew particular attention to the importance for social welfare appellants of having the opportunity to make their case at an oral appeal hearing.
"As set out in the report, the success rate for appeals which include an oral hearing has been consistently higher than the success rate for appeals decided summarily," she said.
"Unfortunately, as FLAC's report also shows, the proportion of appeal cases going to oral hearing has declined significantly in recent years with 59% having an oral hearing in 2009 as against just 35% in 2011."
Chairing the launch, FLAC director general Noeline Blackwell said that the Appeals Office itself had reported 51,515 live or on-going appeals last year, with an average processing time per case of 32 weeks.
"But where there is an oral hearing, the wait could be over a year," she said.
"What these delays mean is that people are not getting a payment to which they are entitled and that some will be at risk of destitution.
"If we take this along with other problems, like the lack of transparency and consistency in decision-making, it means the appeals system does not offer an effective remedy or a system that people can understand."
Saoirse Brady, an advocacy and policy officer with FLAC, said: "So many appeals are overturned by the original decision-maker when they're asked to go back and review their own decisions.
"[It] means that they're obviously not making complete and accurate applications in the first place, or the Department isn't taking or isn't getting the information that they need to make proper decisions at the beginning, rather than drive somebody through a … lengthy appeals process."