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Annual Reports

Social Welfare Appeals Office - Annual Report 2008

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To The Minister for Social and Family Affairs Ms. Mary Hanafin TD.

De réir na forálacha de Alt 308(1) den Acht Leasa Shóisialaigh (Comhdhlúthú), 2005, cuirim isteach tuarascáil na hOifige Achomhairc Leasa Shóisialaigh do 2008.

In accordance with the provisions of Section 308(1) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, I submit the report of the Social Welfare Appeals Office for the year ended 31 December 2008.

Brian Flynn
Director and Chief Appeals Officer

June 2009

Introduction

INTRODUCTION

The year under report, 2008, was a very challenging year for us in the Social Welfare Appeals Office and, looking ahead, we do not expect 2009 and subsequent years to be any less challenging.

The numbers claiming social welfare benefits could be held to be a barometer on the state of our economy and, by the same token, the number of those customers who appeal to my Office in any one year will reflect the numbers claiming those benefits. 2008 in many respects represented a turning point for us. The regularity of an anticipated number of appeals coming to us each year has been blown away by the huge increase in social welfare claims experienced in 2008. In that year, we received 17,833 appeals which is an increase of almost 27% on 2007 and represents the highest number of appeals received in a year since 1993. As one would expect, appeals dealing with unemployment issues increased by 110% in the year.

Notwithstanding the increase in appeals, we finalised a very creditable 15,724 appeals in 2008, representing a 14% increase over 2007. The outcomes of those appeals in terms of how they impacted on appellants were very much in line with 2007 outcomes. 48% had a favourable outcome compared to 47% in 2007 while some 39% had an unfavourable outcome compared to 41% in 2007. As regards oral appeal hearings, 59% of appeals were granted oral hearings by Appeals Officers in 2008 which is slightly down on the 63% granted in 2007.

As a direct result of the significant increase in the number of appeals received, the appeals on hands at the end of 2008 increased by 37% to 7,832. Despite that situation, the average time taken to process all appeals remained at the 2007 level of 22 weeks. That processing time reduces to 14 weeks if allowance is made for the 25% most protracted cases we have on file. It is worth noting that the time taken to process appeals covers all stages of the procedures involved of which about 11 of the 22 weeks is attributable to the ongoing processes within my own Office.

As I have already indicated, we can expect our work to get a lot more difficult in terms of our workload before it will get better. In that context, the bottom line for us is the success we achieve in matching the speed and quality of the service we deliver to the expectations of our customers which will in no way be diminished by our increasing workload. Delivering on that speed and quality requires a strong commitment to a citizen-centred approach from my staff and I am happy to acknowledge the dedicated effort they have brought to that task in the past year. We will continue to strive to provide a service that is independent of the decision being appealed, accessible to our customers, fair and courteous in terms of our processes and prompt as regards our service delivery.

I fully recognise that the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Health Service Executive, whose decisions are appellable to my Office, are involved on a day-to-day basis in applying and interpreting primary legislation and statutory regulations which are often complex and difficult to understand. It is all the more important, therefore, that the outcome of individual appeals should be utilised by those organisations as positive learning for the future so as to ensure a greater consistency of approach in the initial decision making.

I am mindful that the formulation of social welfare policy is the preserve of the Department and the enactment of relevant legislation is a matter for the Oireachtas. My function as Chief Appeals Officer is not to impose or suggest policy enhancements or legislative changes but to draw the attention of the Department, in the context of appeal outcomes, to issues of policy formulation which may warrant a more considered examination.

This annual report is being published electronically and in bilingual form. If you have any comments on any aspect of the report, please get in touch with me.

Brian Flynn
Director and Chief Appeals Officer
June 2009

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