The client attended Community Law & Mediation’s advice clinic in relation to her entitlement to Child Benefit in respect of her 17 year old daughter. She had been in receipt of Child Benefit since 1999 but her payment was stopped on the basis of information received by the Department of Social Protection (Department) indicating that her daughter was no longer residing with her. The client was not informed
of the source or content of this information and appealed the decision on the basis that her daughter does in fact reside with her and that she is responsible for the maintenance of her child.
CLM Northside’s Input
CLM sought the client’s file from the Department under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 and made written submissions on behalf of the client. An oral hearing was held at which CLM argued that the decision of the Department was flawed in that it failed to properly apply the normal residence rules as set out in the relevant regulations. CLM also asserted that the daughter did reside with her mother in accordance with those rules and this created a presumption in favour of the client. The Social Welfare Inspector put forward the evidence relied upon by the Department including a statement from the client’s daughter and other third party information. CLM contended that the Department failed to observe fair procedures as it did not provide the client with information upon which it relied in deciding to terminate her payment until the day of the oral hearing. CLM therefore argued that this breached the client’s right to fair procedures as she had not had the opportunity to consider and to address the allegations relied upon by the Department. The client was successful in her appeal and the Appeals Officer found that the client was entitled to receive Child Benefit.
The client’s Child Benefit was re-instated and she received arrears. The client has also appealed the withholding of certain information under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 to the Information Commissioner. The case highlights the crucial nature of fair procedures in any decision making process.