Appealing can be worth it


Every social welfare claimant has a right to appeal refusal of a benefit. He or she can also appeal the level of the benefit awarded. If you believe you have a genuine case it is worth lodging an appeal. Most cases are dealt with within 14 weeks.

More than 17,000 appeals were processed last year by the Social Welfare Appeals Office, an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year. Around 43 per cent of last year's appeals had a favourable outcome, while 15 per cent were not pursued by appellants. About 39 per cent of men and 47 per cent of women had successful outcomes to their appeals.

The number of Carer's Allowance appeals received increased from 222 in 1996 to more than 1,000 last year. Basic qualifying conditions (apart from a means test) are that the cared-for person must be so incapacitated as to require full-time care and attention.

Oral hearings are generally required when either of these conditions is the appeal issue, to determine the extent of the cared-for person's incapacity, or the amount of care that the carer provides.

Appeals relating to Unemployment Benefit and Assistance payments mainly account for the increase last year. Appeals in this category increased by 47 per cent in 2000.

At issue in most of these appeals is that the statutory conditions of being available for and genuinely seeking suitable employment are not deemed to be satisfied.

Where an appeal is submitted against the decision of a deciding officer, that officer gets the chance to accept or reject the grounds for appeal. The officer may then revise the decision, which can speed up the whole process.

Unemployment payments and disability payments accounted for 80.5 per cent of appeals last year. Cases relating to unemployment payments are often taken by individuals who are refused payment following a means test.

Means for Unemployment Assistance are calculated in accordance with statutory rules. Property is assessable as means, unless it is used as a home or Residence.

In one case taken to the appeals office last year, a person had claimed Unemployment Assistance after he had returned to the State following the breakdown of his marriage.

He and his spouse had gone to live abroad and he had worked there for a few years. There was no legal settlement of affairs following the marriage breakdown and his spouse and her children continued to live in the house.

The claimant was assessed with means of half the net capital value of his former residence, on which mortgage payments continued to be made by the spouse. This reduced the amount of Unemployment Assistance payable to him.

Appealing through his solicitor, the man contended that, though his marriage had broken down, the house abroad continued to be his home as there was no legal arrangement otherwise. Therefore, it was argued, there should be no assessment of means against him in respect of that property.

At the oral hearing, the claimant explained that he had attempted to reach a settlement with his spouse in which he would obtain his share of the property, but his spouse would not agree to that.

In addition to the property abroad continuing to be his home in law, it was submitted he was not able to derive any monetary benefit from it.

The appeals officer considered that the appellant was being assessed with means from property that were "incapable of being realised by him", at least in the short term.

It was also noted that in the case of marital separation occurring within Irish jurisdiction, the question was not raised of assessing as means the house equity of the spouse departing the family home while the spouse and any other members of the family lived there. The appeal succeeded.