The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) is to increase its call handling capacity, ask more staff to take on call answering duties and will consider drafting in external resources to handle calls from applicants for social protection payments. The department is also introducing a ‘powerapp’ to provide staff answering the phone with required information using a customer’s PPSN number.
The department said these measures are designed to increase its ability to respond to calls, and enable the department to reduce pressure on staff that have been handling calls to date. The DEASP also plans to continue promoting the use of online services at www.MyWelfare.ie to further reduce pressure on front-line staff.
While footfall has reduced significantly in most Intreo Centres, a number of customers continue to call to offices, making the requirements on social distancing difficult to maintain.
These measures are being introduced as the department is reducing the opening hours of Intreo Centres from today (Friday).* Most applications for the special Covid-19 supports are made online, causing footfall to reduce significantly in most Intreo Centres. However, it’s reported that a number of customers continue to call to offices, making the requirements on social distancing difficult to maintain.
In a memo to staff the secretary general of the department John McKeon said the department had processed almost 90% of claims received into payment at a time of unprecedented demand. This week it was reported DEASP staff had completed the processing of just over half a million individual payments up to the end of last week. Mr McKeon said the remaining 10% of claims have been withheld for a variety of reasons, mainly due to incorrect information being received.
Mr McKeon told staff: “We will now move to restricted daily opening, with an appointment service, for urgent requirements. This will do two things, it will help us manage social distancing to protect the health of our customers and staff and it will also free up staff time to focus on responding to customer queries and process new claims.”
The DEASP is responsible for processing and payment of the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and standard jobseeker payments. Wage subsidy payments under the Employer Refund Scheme is administered by the Revenue Commissioners on behalf of the DEASP.
Fórsa Assistant General Secretary Paul MacSweeney said the union welcomed the initiatives to reduce the pressure on frontline members in DEASP, as well as measures to reduce the volume of customers in the Intreo offices: “We support the wider sharing of call answering responsibilities across staff in the department, in addition to measures to bring in other civil and public servants to support our members in DEASP and boost services.
“We also support the reduction in Intreo Centre opening hours as this measure will reduce the risk of our members and DEASP customers contracting Covid-19.
“The move to restrict opening hours, combined with directing customers to phone and online services and boosting resources in these areas, is consistent with the public health measures announced by the Government and will make DEASP public offices safer,” he said.
Fórsa supports the reduction in Intreo Centre opening hours as this measure will reduce the risk of our members and DEASP customers contracting Covid-19.
Mr McKeon said a large volume of queries is now coming in to the department relating to the 10% of applications that did not result in payment. He said these enquiries are putting huge pressure on front line staff in Intreo centres, on phone banks and staff supporting in other areas.
“This has added to the huge stress and pressure on all of you, at a time when there is stress about health and safety. Everyone is doing their very best in the circumstances of this avalanche, however we recognise that this level of pressure cannot be carried over a sustained period,” he said.
He said the department had devoted significant resources over the past few days to contact customers who have not been paid and will continue to do so, in addition to communicating in advance with customers in order to reduce subsequent enquiries.
Mr McKeon said the department cannot sustain an ’emergency’ effort over a prolonged period without taking a break, particularly in a situation where many staff have been working long hours including over weekends and public holidays. Offices normally closed over bank holiday weekends will therefore close over the Easter weekend period from Good Friday to Easter Monday inclusive, though some staff may be asked to volunteer to attend in order to deal with applications and customer enquiries, depending on how the Covid-19 situation evolves.
In these circumstances overtime rates will apply, and staff will be granted an additional days leave for 2020/21 for each day of attendance.
Mr McKeon said: “It’s not much, but it is the least we can do for those staff who volunteer to attend,” and added, “We wish to say yet again how proud we are of the work of staff in this Department. You have done your country great service and, yet again, we wish to express our thanks and our admiration.”
Fórsa welcomed the plans to give as many staff as possible a much needed break over Easter. Mr MacSweeney added: “We’re very proud of the professionalism and commitment shown by of our members, particularly during the crisis over the past month.”
*The reduced opening hours to the public will operate from today as follows:
- Friday 3rd April : 10am-1pm
- Monday 6th April: 10am-1pm
- Wednesday 8th April: 10am-1pm
Intreo offices will be closed to customers on Tuesday (7th April) and Thursday (9th April) next week and opening hours will be kept under review after that. See more at MyWelfare.