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'We haven't crowned ourselves in glory': Apology to 5,000 people still waiting on Illness Benefit

People began to complain of delays in Illness Benefit payments back in August.

Image: Sam Boal via Rollingnews

SOCIAL PROTECTION MINISTER Regina Doherty has apologised to the people affected by the delays in Illness Benefit payments, saying that issues with her Department’s new IT system have been rectified. 

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One this afternoon, Doherty said that she was hopeful that any outstanding payments will be issued this evening or over the weekend. 

“What was a move to bring efficiency to the system has caused nothing but distress.

“The most important thing I can say today is that I’m 99% confident that of the 55,000 customers who get a weekly payment off us, over 50,000 of them have received the correct payment this week.

“The remaining five thousand will receive it either today or over the weekend,” Doherty said. 

The Minister told the News at One she couldn’t be 100% positive that all the issues have been resolved, explaining the implementation of a new IT system was the main problem. 

‘Business as usual’

As previously reported by TheJournal.ie, people began to complain of delays in payments back in August but the department initially blamed the issue on GPs. 

The Department introduced a new claim form (IB1) and a new medical certificate (MED1) to replace the previous MC1 and MC2 forms for certification of the Department’s illness and injury benefit schemes but claimed that GPs continued to use old forms despite the system changeover. 

Speaking today, Doherty said that the claim forms are creating separate issues to the IT system delays, adding that negotiations are ongoing between GP representative groups and the Department in relation to the problems arising from the changes. 

The IT problem occurred when the system moved from a payment-in-arrears system to a real-time payment system, according to Doherty. 

“Which meant in August we had an overpayment, lots of people didn’t notice so when we corrected to recoup the overpayment in an underpayment a number of weeks ago, they certainly would have noticed that. Going to a real-time system then caused splits in payments.”

Doherty said that this has been a learning curve for the Department and that, in the future, IT systems will be fully tested before being implemented. 

The Minister’s interview on RTÉ was the first time she had apologised publicly for the distress caused and took the opportunity to thank the 250 staff members that work in the Illness Benefit section. 

“We haven’t crowned ourselves in glory for the last couple of weeks but a particular tribute to the people in the department in that area who have had to listen to very stressed customers and upsurge in calls.” 

Doherty concluded that she hopes things will be “business as usual” for the Illness Benefit sector on Monday. 

A number of people have spoken to TheJournal.ie about their experience with the Department since the delays began in August.

One woman said she had to join Twitter just to get in touch with the Department as they hadn’t answered her calls or responded to any of her emails about the delay in her payments. 

“I’m a very proud person so feel a little embarrassed to have to rely on the State to live, my head just isn’t in a good place at the moment and therefore I can’t work,” she told TheJournal.ie last month. 

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Adam Daly

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