Disability criteria unchanged - Burton
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has denied that changes have been made to eligibility criteria for disability allowances which would make it more difficult for people to qualify.
Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea said last week that there had been a “surge” in the rejection of applications for disability allowances, and was concerned the Department of Social Protection had tightened criteria “behind closed doors” in order to reduce spending.
The refusal rate for initial applications for the allowance in the first quarter of 2012 was 61 per cent, up from 54 per cent in 2010 and 58 per cent in 2011.
Ms Burton said “nothing underhand is going on” in the Department, and there had been “absolutely no change in criteria or conditions”.
The increase in the number of refusals is due to the increase in the number of people applying, the Minister said.
“Up to the year 2000, less than 50,000 people got disability. Today the figure is twice that. It is running at well over 100,000, so there is an enormous volume of applications,” she said.
The number of applications for disability allowance from people who are receiving other social welfare payments such as jobseekers allowance has increased, which is common in other European countries in times of recession, she added.
Minister Burton also denied that the criteria for payments to carers had changed following criticism from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who claimed some applicants for carers allowance have been waiting for up to 40 weeks for their documents to be processed.
“By law, the officials in the Department of Social Protection are required to examine the application and to make a judgement,” said Burton.
“If they require some kind of medical documentation to support the application and that’s not there at the beginning, then inevitably people are going to face long delays.”
The minister added that the importance of carers was recongnised by the government, and specific provisions had been made in the last budget to protect their allowances from cuts.
The Department of Social Protection are currently transferring “tens of thousands” of welfare payments onto a new computer system which will improve waiting times for decisions on disability allowance, carers allowance, and other welfare payments, according to the minister. The transfer is due to be complete by the end of September.