Members of the public have been waiting for up to three years to hear back from the social welfare department, which takes an excessively long time to address appeals and requests, the ombudswoman revealed on Wednesday.

In a report, she detailed an increasing number of complaints against the department, where she observed concerning delays in response times.

Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou Lottides identified that even letters she herself sent to the department went unanswered.

Her findings said there were 21 cases before her, some of which concern unanswered requests dating from 2020.

Lottides identified cases where the department took a decision 21 months after they were appealed – almost two years later – and in another case 32 months afterwards.

She said the department should respond within a reasonable time so it can actually be relevant to the situation applicants are dealing with – oftentimes vulnerable individuals.

These are “vulnerable people in the sense that they may not have the financial resources to meet their needs and are in urgent need of support so they can live in dignity.”

Lottides called on the deputy minister of social welfare to “take all steps to ensure that the timeframes provided by law for the examination of appeals and the issuing of decisions are strictly adhered to.”

She also urged any pending cases submitted before 2022 should be dealt with immediately. “If, for whatever reason, it is not possible to meet the deadlines, applicants should be informed in good time of the reasons for the delay.”

The ombudswoman specified the department is duty-bound to respond within 30 days to applicants. Within three months of submissions, applications can turn to the Supreme Court citing refusal to satisfy their request.

Individuals who are not satisfied by a decision also have the right to write to the minister with an appeal.

The minister then has three months to respond and is allowed to receive an additional three-month extension.

Lottides urged the ministry to improve its communication with the public, and ensure staffers at the 1450 helpline are well trained.