Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the extent to which she has received communication from applicants for various social protection payments or community based charity groups indicating the existence of hardship arising from delays in the processing of applications for various payments operated by her Department; if she has been in a position to seek the transfer of the necessary staff numbers from other Departments in order to clear up any backlogs and therefore alleviate unnecessary hardship; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): The Department is committed to ensuring that claims are processed as expeditiously as possible. As part of the Department’s programme of service delivery modernisation, a range of initiatives aimed at streamlining the processing of claims, supported by modern technology, have been implemented in recent years. Operational processes, procedures and the organisation of work are continually reviewed to ensure that processing capability is maximised. While representations are received on a regular basis in relation to individual customers and their claims and also from community based charity groups, given the volume of representations the Department receives, I am not aware of any recent specific representations from charity groups in relation to hardship caused due to delays in processing of applications.
The staffing needs of my Department are regularly reviewed, having regard to workloads and the competing demands arising, to ensure that the best use is made of all available resources. The Department will continue to source available staff to fill critical vacancies by way of redeployment, or transfer from within the Department and other Government Departments, taking account of the employment control framework (ECF) target, as determined by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
Since May 2008, some 990 staff have been assigned across the Department to fill critical vacancies and additional posts allocated to deal with the increased volume of claims. Taking into account the numbers of staff who have left the Department and the vacancies that exist currently, a net total of 226 additional staff have been assigned to the Department.