Local Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley has raised the need for Community Welfare Clinics to be reinstalled in Laois.
Community Welfare Officers held clinics in towns such as Mountmellick, Mountrath, Rathdowney and Graiguecullen for decades and this has now closed.
They met with people who had no income and assessed them for short term and emergency social welfare payments.
Speaking in the Dáil Deputy Stanley said: “It is an important service and sometimes it is vulnerable people who need it most.
“They may have no transport, may have run out of money or may not be in receipt of any payment from anyone anywhere.
“They may be out of work or perhaps out of work due to ill health and not had their claims processed yet. The service is therefore the last hope for people in dire straits through no fault of their own.
“There was a strong network going back over the years in every county and in key local towns. It is important that the walk-in service is there. There is more demand now than ever for this service.
“The “Additional Needs Payment” is welcome for people who are in energy poverty or energy hardship, to meet once-off demands with the current energy crisis and so on.”
“I raised this with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on 8 September and she sent me back a reply stating that the continued in-person customer engagement remains a pivotal feature within the community welfare service.
“She outlines that this is still available at two locations in Laois. I would contradict that. She also says there is a free-phone helpline in Dublin and that people can send an email.
“This service has been overly centralised over the last couple of years. Gone is that network of face-to-face walk-in services where the community welfare officer came to a particular health centre, typically, on some morning during the week. Now people are being told to email Dublin or contact the national helpline.
“Telling people that is absolutely daft. People are being told to download forms on a computer. We are talking to people in a lot of cases who do not have a computer and are not computer-literate.
“The assurances given by the Minister here and what she said in the letter do not reflect the reality on the ground. That network of community welfare officers is no longer in place.
“This is causing real hardship. I am appealing to the Government and the Minister of State to review this and try and get the network back in place in County Laois.”
The Minister replied: “I want to be absolutely clear that this service continues to provide local access to local community welfare officers, CWO’s, in local areas across the country and there are no plans to change the service.”
Deputy Stanley replied: “This is incorrect as CWO clinics have halted in locations such as Mountmellick, Mountrath, Rathdowney and Graiguecullen.”