Monday 22 July 2019

Surge in complaints over illness benefits contributes to overall rise of 73pc in complaints to department

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Gordon Deegan

A 14-fold increase in complaints relating to one of the 70 separate schemes and services provided by the Department of Employment and Social Affairs contributed to overall complaints made to the department last year soaring by 73pc.

In August last year, people receiving payments through the Dept’s Illness Benefit Scheme started to report delays in receiving payments with some reporting financial problems as they faced rent payments and back to school costs.

Now, new figures show that a total of 773 complaints were made to the Dept concerning the Illness Benefit Scheme last year.

The 773 total represents a 14 fold increase on the 53 complaints made under that scheme heading in 2017 and a 19 fold increase on the 40 received in 2016.

The complaints made over the scheme accounted for 40pc of all 1,808 complaints made with the Dept last year.

The 1,808 complaints received last year by the Dept of Employment is a 73pc increase on the 1,045 complaints received in 2017.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin told the Dáil last October that people were being left for weeks with no payment and being referred to the community welfare service (CWS), which operates means tested payments, meaning many people who are sick or in recovery from operations were being left without an income.

Deputy Howlin told the Dáil that that morning his office in Wexford “spoke with a woman who is awaiting an operation and who has no money to buy food”.

He said: “People have been given minimal payments instead of their full entitlement, with one case of a person being offered just €33 for two weeks. In another case, a women had to wait over nine weeks for payment.”

A spokeswoman for the Dept of Employment and Social Affairs said on Monday: “In Autumn 2018, difficulties arose for a number of customers following the implementation of a new real-time Illness Benefit system.

“The Department returned Illness Benefit service levels to normal in November 2018, and deeply regrets the inconvenience and upset caused to customers as a result of payment issues.”

On the 1,808 complaints for 2018, the spokeswoman pointed out that the scale of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is very significant; it deals with over 70 separate schemes and services and processed a total of 82.2 million individual payments in 2017, with 1.6 million weekly social welfare payments being made every single week.

She said: “The Department is committed to providing an excellent service to those we engage with and provide services to.”

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