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Strain as 20,000 appeal Social Welfare refusal

SOCIAL Protection officials are under "extraordinary" strain to deal with a staggering backlog of over 20,000 welfare appeals.

Minister Joan Burton is to recruit an additional eight specialised officials this year as part of a major push to "eliminate" the massive waiting list.

Thousands of families and individuals are waiting months to learn whether their appeal has been successful.

The office deals with appeals from those who have been turned down for benefits, such as job-seekers allowance.

It also hears appeals from individuals who have been stripped of their benefits.

New figures released to Labour TD Tommy Broughan reveal that there are 20,364 appeal cases outstanding.

Among those facing waits include full-time carers as well as people with disabilities and long-term illnesses.

Sources process say individual decisions can take "months", particularly when oral appeals are arranged.

"Sometimes people take their appeals all the way and the office in charge is obliged to meet appellants. That in itself can take months until the case is finalised," a source said.







Pressure

The backlog has caused considerable pressure on the Appeals Office, which operates independently from the department.

In a statement, Ms Burton said there was a "sustained increase in the number of appeals from 2009 to date which has placed extraordinary pressure on the Social Welfare Appeals Office."

She added: "Significant resources and efforts have been put into reducing backlogs and improving processing times for appellants, including the assignment of 15 additional Appeals Officers, improving business processes and implementing a new operating model."

"The Chief Appeals Officer expects to finalise 6,000 more cases in 2013 than in 2012." There were 33,129 appeals finalised in 2012.

Mr Broughan said: "It is very difficult for an individual or family who are waiting to have their appeal heard by the Social Welfare Appeals Officer and who may be under serious financial pressure. I welcome the steps has taken so far."

noconnor@herald.ie