Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General - Press release VFM examination report on The Administration of Supplementary Welfare Allowances

Press release issued on 16 July 1998

Value for Money Report on the Administration of

Supplementary Welfare Allowances

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. John Purcell, has published a report on his examination of the administration of Supplementary Welfare Allowances. The examination looked at the efficiency of the administration of the scheme; considered administrative arrangements in terms of the potential for improving the service provided either at no additional cost or with reduced administrative resources; reviewed the impact of changes in the nature and extent of poverty on the scope of the scheme, in particular the provision of information, advice and referral services; and reviewed current strategic management issues associated with ensuring the continuing effectiveness of the scheme.

The report was presented to Dáil ?reann today. The main findings of the examination are summarised overleaf.

For further information about the report contents, please contact:

Fergus O’Brien at (01) 679 3122

Main Findings

  • The Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) scheme is managed by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs but is delivered locally through Community Welfare Officers as part of the community welfare service operated by health boards. In 1996 about 300,000 recipients received financial support amounting to ?152 million. Administration costs amounted to almost ?17 million.
  • In the ten year period to 1996 there was an average annual increase of 13.1% in recipients in contrast to an average annual increase in administration costs of 4.5%. The throughput improvement over the ten year period varied considerably across the health boards and a wide variation in the administration costs of the different components of SWA was also noted.
  • Overall administration costs were 10.8% of total payments. Meaningful comparison with schemes operated by the Department is difficult in the absence of detailed Departmental data.
  • Separate means testing by the health boards of those awaiting a decision on eligibility under a Departmental scheme and subsequently by the Department may give rise to excessive administrative costs of up to ?2 million.
  • The merging of the separate means test required under the back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme with the existing Departmental means test for child dependant allowance should also result in substantial administrative savings. However, the benefit in this case could be more than offset by the consequential cost of wider entitlement.
  • There is widespread agreement that rent and mortgage supplements have become mainstream supports and should not be administered by health boards as part of SWA.
  • The additional demands arising from a large increase in the number of SWA recipients and from the changing nature of poverty mean that the scheme now operates mainly as a financial support mechanism with little in the way of the provision of information, advice and referral services, as was originally intended. The Department provides similar supports and there is also an increasing provision of these services by the voluntary sector, much of which is funded by the Department. This proliferation of sources for these supports should be reviewed and rationalised.
  • To date there has been no system of regular programme evaluation or impact analysis of the scheme but the Department is now planning such an evaluation. Service agreements which set objectives, targets and suitable performance measures for the scheme should be drawn up between the Department and the health boards.

The contents of this page were last updated on 26/09/03