Deputy Tommy Broughan had hoped for the opportunity to question the Tánaiste yesterday in the Dáil but instead received a shocking written reply to his Parliamentary Question regarding timeframes for processing appeals relating to Family Income Supplement and One-Parent Family Payments. Individuals could be waiting for between 20.7 weeks to 38.5 weeks for a decision from the Social Welfare Appeals Office and Deputy Broughan finds this lengthy timeframe wholly unacceptable.
The response received from the Tánaiste today stated that “the total number of appeals on hands for all schemes at the end of 2014 continued to fall to just over 9,600 or a reduction of 35% year on year.” It goes on to state however that “the current average time taken to decide family income supplement appeals decided on a summary basis is 20.7 weeks and 25.5 weeks for oral hearing, down from peaks of 30.7 weeks and 41 weeks, respectively, in 2013.” Deputy Broughan did not request 2013 figures in his Parliamentary Question as he was trying to access information on the current impact on lone parent families today and although improvements in processing times are welcome they are still far too long.
The reply also stated “the corresponding current average processing times for one parent family appeals is 27 weeks and 38.5 weeks respectively, down, in the case of oral appeals, from 57.5 weeks in 2011.” The Tánaiste puts these ‘improved’ processing times down to “a new operating model” and the fact that “the appeals officer cadre increased to 41 officers in the last four years”. Persons in the appeals process should not be left without any payment however and “any person whose means are insufficient to meet their needs while awaiting an appeal decision may apply for supplementary welfare allowance”.
Deputy Broughan says “With the upcoming changes to the One-Parent Family Payments this summer many parents are confused by changes to their circumstances, particularly those parents who are working part-time. In order to quality for Family Income Supplement (FIS), you have to be working for a minimum of 19 hours per week. Yet many workers on shorter, so-called flexible contracts will not be eligible for FIS and may have to make a number of appeals for determining hours worked. I find it quite hypocritical that the Tánaiste was on the picket lines with Dunnes workers yet her ‘reforms’ are failing any single parents on similar part-time contracts who will then have to wait for months to hear the outcome of any appeals.”
Changes to One-Parent Family Payments were introduced with the aim of enabling lone parents to move away from social welfare dependency and into education and employment yet, according to statistics from One Family the charity working with one-parent families, there were just 36% of OFP recipients working in 2014 compared to 60% in 2012. Deputy Broughan is echoing One Family’s call for the Tánaiste to immediately pause these reforms and address the severe deficiencies that are clearly failing.
One parent families in particular have the highest deprivation rates in Ireland, with the 2013 Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) results showing us that 63% of one-parent families living in poverty. Of the 411 families currently in emergency homeless accommodation (another result of the Labour/Fine Gael austerity years) 60% of these families are one parent families.