Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, has called for Community Welfare Officers to be brought back to local communities.
Speaking in the Dáil, Teachta Kerrane said:
“We are in a cost of living crisis with energy prices at record levels and as we approach temperatures dropping to below freezing this week, households will be making difficult decisions when it comes to turning on the heating. In fact, the Taoiseach has told people, especially older people, to keep the heating on during the upcoming cold spell.
“Sadly, it is not that simple.
“For the majority of workers and families, they do not have access to the Fuel Allowance. If struggling with heating costs and utility bills, their only option is the Additional Needs Payment under the Department of Social Protection.
“Latest figures show that the majority of these applications are taking four weeks to be processed. Households in need do not have four weeks to wait for what is supposed to be an emergency payment.
“One of the issues here is the removal of Community Welfare Officers from our communities. So, for example, in my own hometown of Ballaghaderreen, the Community Welfare Officer used to be based in the local health centre. A person in financial difficulty could walk in, would more than likely be known by the local Officer and the payment could be issued there and then.
“Instead, the only option available to people now is to contact the Community Welfare Officer by phone, and arrange a meeting, or travel to the nearest Intreo Office, which can be forty minutes or more away for an appointment.
“For many, particularly in rural areas, they have no access to public transport. The Additional Needs Payment is a 16-page application form which is being sent to centralised hubs. This is resulting in some Constituents waiting 10 to 12 weeks for a decision on their application. This is absolutely unacceptable.
“It has also been put to me that for people in domestic violence situations, they may not have access to or the time to ring and speak to a Community Welfare Officer. They could, however, get into the local Community Welfare Officer based in their local town.
“I have been saying this for months now. Community Welfare Officers must be brought back to our communities and the walk-in service resumed. This is the quickest and easiest way for people to get support in one of the greatest cost of living crises many of us have seen.”