Farm Ireland

Thursday 21 March 2019

Department's appeals model does not need restructuring, but numerous recommendations made - review

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

A review of the Department of Agriculture's appeals model has recommended that it does not need a restructuring, but does make a number of other recommendations.

The Committee found that Appeals Officers are not bound by their ‘attachment’ to the Department in the determination of appeal outcomes and on this basis, therefore a fundamental restructuring of the appeals model is not warranted. 

Today's report found that the evidence would suggest that Appeals Officers do act independently of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There are, however, mechanisms where the operation of the Appeals Office can provide for greater transparency and ways to increase the perception that the Appeals Office is independent from the Department. 

It is noted that in the context of the Department processing approximately 350,000 applications for payment from farmers annually, the number of appeals made by claimants is extremely low – at 0.18pc.

It said this illustrates a level of satisfaction by the majority of farmers with the service that is provided by the Department in processing applications for payment.

However, the Committee considers that the level of appeals is also impacted by an element of a lack of awareness among the farming public of the review and appeal processes open to farmers, who are dissatisfied with the decisions made in their cases. 

It also found that the Department’s review process is not uniform across all scheme areas and said that there is scope for standardisation of processes and for providing a much clearer explanation to farmers as to the pathway through the review and appeal mechanisms.

It recommended the introduction of an independent Agriculture Appeals Review Panel, where reviews of the decisions of Appeals Officers are sought, will considerably strengthen its procedures and underpin public confidence in the operation of the Office. 

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The Committee recommends that the period within which a revision can be sought is six months from the date of decision by the Appeals Officer. 

It also said that it does not consider that a fee structure is appropriate for an initial appeal to an Appeals Officer. However, the Committee considers that a fee is appropriate for progression of an appeal to the second tier, the independent Agriculture Review Panel, which would be set by the Panel 

The average number of days for the processing of appeals with the Appeals Office is considered too long and it is a matter that should be considered by the Office and it recommended that there is a need for the introduction of deadlines for the processing of reviews received from claimants following the issue of findings/decisions.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme/Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme had the longest wait – on average 77 days in 2016, compared to 26 days for AEOS.

The Review Committee consisted of three members Niamh O’Donoghue, former Secretary General, Department of Social Protection (Chair); Padraig Gibbons, farmer, former chairman of Connacht Gold and former President of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS); and Paud Evans, former Principal Officer, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

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