Social Welfare Appeal G0131: State Pension (contributory)

Date of Final Decision: 27 June 1997

Keywords: State Pension; Fair Procedures; Natural Justice; Fair Hearing; Oral Hearing; Cross Examination; Witnesses; Incomplete Records; Evidence; Estoppel

Organisation who represented the Claimant: N/A

Title of Payment: State Pension (contributory)

Casebase no: G0131

Case Summary:

The case reference is Galvin v Chief Appeals Officer [1997] IEHC 218.

The case concerned a challenge to the decision by the Chief Appeals Officer of the Department of Social Welfare (the “Respondent”) when assessing the application of Mr Galvin (the “Applicant”) for a contributory old age pension. The Chief Appeals Officer (and before them the deciding officer and appeals officer) had denied this application. The reason for this decision was that the Department did not have records to show that the Applicant had made sufficient social insurance contributions to be eligible to receive this benefit.

The Applicant asked the High Court to review the decision. He claimed that the failure to offer him an oral hearing where he could cross-examine the persons in charge of the records of the Department and produce his own evidence to support his claim that he had made sufficient social insurance contributions was a breach of his right to fair procedures. He also said that, in any event, he should be entitled to receive the contributory old age pension because he had received a letter from the Department of Social Protection saying that he didn’t need to make further contributions to receive a pension. The Department said that it was entitled to rely on its own records, which showed that he hadn’t made enough social contributions, and that while an appeals officer had the power to convene an oral hearing under the relevant legislation, it wasn’t obliged to do so.

The High Court found that while there is no general right to an oral hearing in all cases. However, the Applicant in this case should have been afforded an oral hearing where he could cross examine witnesses and give evidence. This decision was based on the specific circumstances of the Applicant’s case. The Department was ordered to schedule an oral hearing and to allow the Applicant a right to appeal any decision made by the appeals officer at that oral hearing to the Chief Appeals Officer.

The High Court didn’t agree with the argument that the letter sent by the Department of Social Protection entitled the Applicant to receive a pension. The Applicant said that the sending of this letter prevented (or, to use the legal term, “estopped”) the Department from denying the Applicant a pension because that would be inconsistent with that communication. The Court said that even if the Department had not said to the Applicant that he had made enough social insurance contributions, the Applicant wouldn’t have been able to change the question of his eligibility to receive a pension by making more social insurance contributions, and that this meant that this argument must fail.