This case concerns a blind person who first applied for the Blind Pension in April 1994 when he was 18 years old. At the time of application the Appellant was assessed by a Social Welfare Inspector (SWI) as having nil means, therefore the Blind Pension was awarded at the full rate with effect from 22 April 1994. When the Appellant initially applied for this payment, he was living at home with his parents and his mother acted as his agent by collecting his weekly payment from the Post Office.
In 1997 the Appellant moved out of home and commenced an 18-month training course at a “Rehab Training Centre”. In 1998 a SWI investigated the Appellant’s claim and reported that he was participating in a telephonist-training course that was due to end in May 1999.
No further review of the Appellant’s payment was carried out until 2014. On 30 May 2014 the investigating SWI submitted a report to a Deciding Officer (DO) of the Department of Social Protection (DSP), advising that the Appellant was employed by the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI) and that he had gross income of €2,993.25 per month. In the course of the investigation the Central Records System was accessed by the DSP and the resulting report showed that the Appellant had earnings and reckonable contributions since 2003.
On 11 June 2014 a DO issued a revised decision stating that the Appellant was not entitled to the Blind Pension from 1 January 2007 to 12 June 2014; and, as a consequence of this revised decision, was liable for an overpayment of €72,826.60. A debt recovery letter to this effect was issued to the Appellant on the same date.
The Appellant submitted notice of appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 23 June 2014, and North Donegal MABS submitted more detailed grounds of appeal on his behalf on 1 September 2014. MABS also requested that an oral hearing be held.
MABS asserted that in view of the circumstances that gave rise to the overpayment it was neither proportionate nor reasonable to issue a revised decision with retrospective effect, the consequences of which were clearly devastating to the client. It was further asserted that the relevant statutory provisions governing the assessment of means provided that “any moneys from a charitable organisation” are excluded in the means test; accordingly, it was arguable that moneys the Appellant received from the NCBI, a charitable body, fell within the scope of this statutory income disregard.
On 22 October 2014 an oral hearing was held. A Money Advisor from North Donegal MABS attended on behalf of the Appellant. A family member also accompanied the Appellant. Two members of staff represented the DSP.
On 17 December 2014 the Appeals Officer decided that the Appellant was not entitled to Blind Pension from January 2007, rejecting the assertion that moneys received in the form of remunerative employment could be regarded as falling within the scope of the statutory provision that allows for the disregard of moneys from charitable organisations. However, the Appeals Officer did accept that the circumstances that gave rise to the overpayment were such that is was not appropriate that the DSP’s decision take effect retrospectively. Accordingly, while the Appeals Officer found that the Appellant was not entitled to the Blind Pension from 2007, it was decided that the decision should take effect from 12 June 2014. As a consequence of the Appeals Officer’s decision, the Appellant was not liable for an overpayment of €72, 826.60.