1.1 The Citizens Information Bill, 2006 replaces the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill, 2004, which was published in September, 2004. The Citizens Information Bill, like the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill that it replaces, provides primarily for the introduction of a personal advocacy service for people with disabilities as well as making changes to the membership of the Board. The new Bill contains additional provisions which were not included in the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004 and it is these new provisions that are the subject of this screening regulatory impact analysis. The new provisions in the Citizens Information Bill, 2006 relate to:
- the introduction of an independent appeals system for cases where the applicant is dissatisfied with a decision in relation to his or her eligibility for the assignment of a personal advocate;
- a provision to change the name of Comhairle to the Citizens Information Board or, in the Irish language, An Bord um Fhaisnéis do Shaoránaigh;
- enhanced functions for the Citizens Information Board in relation to supporting the work of the voluntary bodies providing information, advice and advocacy on its behalf, in particular the Citizen Information Centres;
- the establishment by the Board of the criteria, terms and conditions to be met by voluntary bodies in order to qualify for financial and other resources;
- an extension of the term of membership of the Board from 3 to 5 years; and
- provision for the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to issue general policy directions to the Board including directions to undertake campaigns to disseminate information relating to a particular social service.
1.2 This scanning regulatory impact analysis refers only to the new provisions as described.
2. The Policy Context
2.1 The introduction of a personal advocacy service is a key element of the Government's programme for improving services for people with disabilities. The legislative proposals in the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill, 2004 provided for the amendment of the Comhairle Act, 2000 to enable the establishment of this service. It provided for matters such as the qualifying conditions for eligibility for the service, how the service was to be administered, the responsibilities of the personal advocate, the application process, and other related matters. The Comhairle (Amendment) Bill also sought to make changes to the number of members of the Board of the statutory body. The Citizens Information Bill, 2006 (An Bille um Fhaisnéis do Shaoránaigh, 2006) incorporates these published legislative proposals but also includes the additional provisions as described above.
3. Statement of Policy Objectives
3.1 Independent Appeals System
3.1.1 The provisions relating to the appeals process aims to put in place an independent appeals system process for people dissatisfied with the decision on eligibility for the personal advocacy service.
3.2 Change of name of the statutory body.
3.2.1 The purpose of the change of name to Citizens Information Board (An Bord um Fhaisnéis do Shaoránaigh) is to have the statutory body and the voluntary bodies providing information services, particularly the Citizen Information Centres, readily identifiable by the public as part of one coherent brand in the provision of State-funded information services. The name change will become effective immediately on enactment of the Bill.
3.3 Strengthening the functions of the Citizens Information Board.
3.3.1 The provisions which enhance the functions of the statutory body in supporting and developing the provision of integrated information aim to improve access to and public awareness of the social services that are available to people.
3.3.2 The provision enabling the Board to set terms and conditions for voluntary organisations that apply to it for financial assistance is designed to improve accountability obligations and to strengthen the Board's remit in the promotion of high quality standards in the provision of information to the public.
3.3.3 The objective of the provision which states that the Minister may give general policy directions to the Citizens Information Board including directions to undertake information campaigns is to strengthen the role of the statutory body in the direct dissemination of information to the public, in line with its functions in the Comhairle Act 2000.
3.4 Membership of the Board
3.4.1 The extension of the term of membership of the Board to 5 years is intended to secure greater continuity in the leadership of the organisation to the benefit of the relationship between the Board and the voluntary and community providers of information services throughout the country.
4. Identification of Alternatives to Legislative or Regulatory Provisions and Analysis of the Options
4.1 Comhairle is a statutory body and its functions are set out in the Comhairle Act, 2000. There are no alternatives to legislation to secure the stated objectives which pertain expanding the responsibilities of the Board, changing its name and altering the terms of its membership. Neither is there an alternative to legislative provisions in relation to providing an appeals system for people who are dissatisfied with a decision in relation to eligibility for the service as the process must aim to be compliant with European Convention on Human Rights legislation.
4.2 The legislative changes proposed are among a number of measures intended to improve access to services, particularly for people with disabilities, and to provide for a new service – the Personal Advocacy Service. The changes to strengthen the remit of the Board and to provide for an independent appeals process are pertinent to these purposes. The 'no policy change' option is not an appropriate option meeting the requirements of this group of people.
4.3 In relation to the specific provision for the introduction of an appeals process, a number of models of appeals systems were considered. Following consideration of the various options, consultations with the Chief Appeals Officer of the Social Welfare Appeals Office and having reference to the advice of the Office of the Attorney General into the issues arising in the development of an appropriate appeals system, it was decided that the most appropriate option with regard to both structures and processes, was the Social Welfare Appeals option. The legislation provides that the Chief Appeals Officer of the Social Welfare Appeals Office will determine appeals from people who are dissatisfied with a decision on their eligibility for the assignment of a personal advocate.
4.4 The benefits of the proposed solution are significant – an easily understood and proven process already in place, a group of experienced appeals officers available to determine appeals, a well established secretariat and a service that is well generally regarded by customers.
5.1 Full cost benefit analysis is not appropriate as it would be disproportionate to the significance of the legislative changes proposed, which are the subject of this screening regulatory impact analysis. The costs associated with the change of name to the statutory body to the Citizens Information Board (An Bord un Fhaisnéis do Shaoránaigh) are not significant – the statutory body already has a programme underway to strengthen the profile of the information services provided under its auspices through the development of the 'Citizens Information' brand.
5.2 The financial and staff requirements that arise in relation to the introduction of a personal advocacy service are the subject of ongoing discussions with the Minister of Finance in the context of the Estimates and Budgetary processes. Any additional resources required in relation to the appeals provisions for the service, which is the subject of this screening regulatory analysis, will be discussed with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. Such costs are not expected to be significant.
6. Other Impacts
- National competitiveness
− The legislative proposals do not impact in any regard on national competitiveness.
- Socially excluded or vulnerable groups
− The legislation is specifically aimed at improving services for people with disabilities and will have a significant impact in addressing the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups at risk of poverty.
- The environment
- The legislative proposals do not have any implications for the environment.
- Significant policy change in an economic market
- The provisions do not have implications for economic market policy.
- The rights of citizens
- The legislative proposals will make a significant impact in terms of social inclusion and promoting access to full citizenship for all.
- Significant compliance burden
- No compliance obligations have been identified.
7.1 Consultation has been undertaken with the Board of Comhairle and its senior management; with the Chief Appeals Officer of the Social Welfare Appeals Office and with relevant Government Departments in the context of the circulation of the Memorandum for Government.
7.2 In relation to the wider programme of legislation, including the Disability Sectoral Plan, there is ongoing consultation with a number of Disability Interest Groups, in particular the Disability Legislation Consultation Group and it is intended that this consultation will continue throughout the legislative process.
8. Enforcement and Compliance
8.1 There are no compliance requirements associated with the new provisions.
9.1 The Annual Report of the Citizen Information Board (An Bord um Fhaisnéis do Shaoránaigh) will set out details of progress in achieving the objectives of the legislation. Performance indicators and targets in relation to objectives will be set out in the Citizen Information Board's Statement of Strategy and these will be subject to review every three years.
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