Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Social Equality, Willie O’Dea TD, says today’s FLAC Report which criticises the massive delays in the social welfare appeals system underpins his call for openness and transparency in this process.

Deputy O’Dea commented: “Last weekend, I called on Minster Joan Burton to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection to explain the latest shocking statistics on waiting times for social welfare payments and appeals.

“There are hundreds of families in Ireland that have been waiting over a year to have their appeals for various state supports heard. This is a ticking time bomb and unless we get answers from the Minister, this shocking situation will get progressively worse.

“The Minister has told me that 87% of people who have their application for the disability allowance refused is because ‘the medical condition is not satisfied’. I simply don’t believe this, I know of families that have been refused the allowance despite the condition of their child becoming worse. They have a Doctor’s certificate confirming this yet there is no reasonable explanation why families are being cruelly denied this vital payment.

“This follows further evidence that confirms three out of every five applications for the Disability Allowance are being rejected. The Minister has maintained that there has been no change of policy, but all the evidence points to the contrary.

“The figures are astonishing, 4,169 people nationwide are waiting to have their appeals heard for the Disability Allowance, 2,513 of these have been waiting for more than 4 months, and 321 people are waiting for more than a year. In addition to this there are 1,635 people waiting to have their appeals for the Carer’s Allowance processed, with more than 900 of these waiting for over 4 months and 113 people waiting for over a year.

“This Government has consistently attacked supports for young people with disabilities since coming into office and Minister Burton has been forced into a series of row-backs and ‘reviews’.

I have requested a detailed explanation from Minister Burton on numerous occasions but she seems intent on hiding behind the desktop reviews carried out in Dublin with no direct contact with the devastated families concerned.

“The FLAC report, which covers 2011, says the appeals office should be placed on a statutorily independent footing to ensure independence from the Department of Social Protection and I would support this. The report also says there is a lack of transparency in decision-making, as the appeals office does not publish its decisions. The situation has got drastically worse over the last year and we need straight answers.

“I cannot understand why the appeals process is shrouded in such secrecy, what is the Minister trying to hide? Families should be afforded the courtesy to have their appeals heard through an oral hearing as a basic right.

“Officials in Minister Burton’s Department should have at least look at and talk to the people they are sitting in judgement of.”