The Intreo offices on Abbey Road, Navan.

‘Every one of us is looking for a transfer. We all want to get out of this office’

Staff at Department of Social Protection office 'at breaking point'

Staff at Navan's Department of Social Protection Intreo office are reported to be at breaking point due to severe staff shortages and huge workloads.

They have warned that vital services to members of the public, including Exceptional Needs Payments, could suffer unless action is taken immediately.

Delays in processing claims because of the extreme workload has led to abuse of staff by members of the public. They have been threatened and in one incident a man cut himself in front of traumatised workers.

Fears have been expressed that a staff member will have a nervous breakdown or heart attack in the office because of the stress they are under.

The staff's union Forsa has warned that the current situation is unsustainable. "There are tangible health and safety risks, both for the staff working there and for service users attending the office. The union regards the situation as needing urgent attention by the Department of Social Protection," said a spokesperson.

"There are ongoing problems due to a shortage of staff at the Navan office. There is also a very high rate of staff turnover, as people avail of transfer options to other departments and locations.

"Fórsa's concern is, above all, for the health and safety of our members working at that location. To that end, the union has continued to communicate with management at the Department of Social Protection, and to propose measures that would take some of the pressure off the staff there."

According to a source there are just 12 people dealing with Job Seekers Benefits, Job Seekers Allowance and one parent family payments, and the workload is horrendous. They warn vital services to members of the public will suffer unless action is taken immediately.

"Since Covid the number of staff working in this office has been decimated, however the amount of work we are being asked to undertake rising each week.

"There is not enough staff to cover the basic day to day duties that are required to keep people in payment and clients are facing delays in getting claims and payments. It is such a stressful place to work that staff who live locally in Navan accepted transfers to get out of the office - that’s how bad it is. Every one of us is looking for a transfer. We all want to get out of this office."

"The office currently has four vacancies, but the work expected of staff does not take these vacancies into consideration. "

She said that not a day goes by without a member of staff being verbally abused by a client. The Gardai have been called at times but the client has usually left by the time they arrive.

"People are understandably upset when payments are delayed or refused. They get irate. We have been threatened with stabbing, we've been told they know where we live and a man once slashed himself with a knife in front of us.

"We are burnt out and mentally exhausted. We are at breaking point.

"Staff come into the office sick to allow their colleagues have their time off, such is the low numbers of staff. If you are sick and take time off, it means one of your colleagues may not be able to take their holidays. It’s difficult to get leave and family friendly leave.

"We all usually eat at our desks. When you take a lunch break, you colleagues just have more work to do."

"We are doing our best to provide a good customer service to members of the public despite the difficulties in the office.

“As well as the huge everyday workload, we had to deal with 600 or so additional claims from Tara Mines workers and with the huge numbers of Ukrainians that needed our assistance.

"We had no additional resources to deal with this extra workload and there is no overtime. People say we are lucky to have civil service jobs and yes we are, but the staff in Navan cannot work under the conditions they are expected to for much longer."

In response last night (Tuesday), the Department of Social Protection issued a statement saying: "Management across the Department of Social Protection (DSP) work closely with their teams to ensure our essential services continue to be delivered to our customers. The Department’s mission is to promote the active participation and inclusion of all in society through the provision of income supports, employment services and other services.

"All this of course could not be done without the reliability, resilience, and commitment of all staff. The Department recognises the contribution of staff and management in the delivery of services in Navan Intreo Centre."

The Department says it is governed in its approach to staff leave and such in line with the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997/ Sick Leave Regulations / Civil Service Mobility and Internal Mobility policies.

"There is no indication that claim processing is in an arrears situation in Navan. The health and safety of our staff and customers is of critical concern to the Department, while continuing to deliver vital public services to all our customers The Department also engages with staff representative groups and manage that relationship accordingly."