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'Unacceptable': Minister told Illness Benefit delays means some people have no money to buy food

Howlin said calls to the Social Protection helpline have been going unanswered.

Image: Shutterstock/Owls Photography

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said no customer impacted by the delay in Illness Benefit payments will lose out. 

For a second day in a row, a minister faced questions during Leaders’ Questions about the delay or cessation of customer payments since the new automated system for Illness Benefit came in.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Department of Social Protection is working to resolve the issues, and Minister Regina Doherty has sought a detailed report on how the changeover was communicated to both customers and GPs. 

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said people are being left for weeks with no payment and being referred to the community welfare service (CWS), which operates means tested payments, meaning many people who are sick or in recovery from operations are being left without an income.

“Just this morning in Wexford my office spoke with a woman who is awaiting an operation and who has no money to buy food. People have been given minimal payments instead of their full entitlement, with one case of a person being offered just €33 for two weeks. In another case, a women had to wait over 9 weeks for payment,” he said. 

Christmas savings

TheJournal.ie has also spoken to a number of people impacted by the payments problem, with some stating that the have been forced to dip into their Christmas funds due to the delays. 

In addition, Howlin said calls to the Social Protection helpline have been going unanswered. 

“The whole situation needs urgent action. I understand that there are IT difficulties that led to delays processing forms that GPs send in to certify people as still unfit for work, but the Department has been very slow to respond,” he told Coveney today. 

“The bottom line is that people who are off work due to illness or injury are not receiving their social insurance entitlement to an Illness Benefit payment and this is leaving many people in a very difficult situation, while some long-standing recipients of Illness Benefit have had their payments suddenly stopped,” added Howlin. 

Apology

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has apologised for the payment difficulties arising from the changeover to a new IT system and for the lack of communication which added to these issues.

Coveney told the Dáil today that the department has acknowledged that the issues have led to a large volume of calls to its helpline, which has resulted in long delays from the department in responding to calls.

The Tánaiste told TDs that in order to address this, the department is now taking urgent action to deploy additional staff to manage customer calls.

The Labour leader said he was unhappy with the minister’s response today, stating that they still don’t know when the issues will be resolved. 

The department has said to ensure prompt payment they are advising customers to submit their claim on the new IB1/MED1 forms to the department directly at the following Freepost address: Social Welfare Services, P.O. Box 1650, Dublin 1.

Customers who have financial concerns arising from the move to the new system can apply to the Department’s Community Welfare Services to receive an interim payment.

Customers who have any further queries with regard to their payments, should call 01 – 7043300 or 1890 928 400 or email illnessbenefit@welfare.ie. 

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