This requirement applies to Title II and Title XVI cases in which the official claim folder is electronic. Except under limited circumstances, CDs will no longer be provided to appointed representatives. Representatives who are not already registered with SSA’s Appointed Representative Services (ARS) are encouraged to do so as soon as possible. Over 95% of NOSSCR members who responded to our recent survey question on ARS reported that they are registered. For the convenience of those who are not, SSA officials will be available during NOSSCR’s conference in Miami to register. See below for further information about registration during the NOSSCR conference.
Note that under this mandate, SSA will not be providing CDs of files at the time of the hearing. Until ODARs can be equipped with secure internet that allows for electronic access of clients’ files in the hearing office, representatives should download the file onto their laptop that they bring to the hearing, or should burn their own CD to use in an ODAR computer.
In making this announcement, SSA recognizes the limitations on electronic folder access when a claimant has appointed multiple representatives. Only the principal representative is able to access a claimant’s electronic folder. Nevertheless, SSA will not provide a CD if the principal representative seeks direct payment of fees. Instead, the principal representative must download the file, which can then be accessed by co-representatives. At recent meetings with SSA, NOSSCR staff explained the problems that many NOSSCR members face with this rule when the principal representative is unavailable to download the file, but we were not able to convince them that a CD should be provided in this instance. We will continue our advocacy on this topic. In the rare case where a client has appointed representatives from multiple firms, SSA will provide a CD to the co-representative who cannot access the downloaded file.
Most NOSSCR members have found ARS to be a convenient way to review an electronic folder online, download material from the electronic folder and upload new evidence to their client’s file. Use of ARS also allows a representative to immediately see whether evidence that was submitted is properly processed and the representative can also access the status of cases pending at the hearing and Appeals Council level. The notice announcing this requirement notes that “when a representative uses ARS for these types of tasks, hearing office staff has more time to perform other tasks needed to prepare for and schedule hearings.”
This rule will not apply when a representative is unable to register for ARS due to technological issues (such as no cell phone coverage where the office is located) or when technology limitations prevent access to the electronic folder through ARS, such as when a claimant has claims pending at both the Appeals Council and hearing level, or if a case has been closed for more than 90 days after a final action. In those situations SSA will continue to provide a CD copy of the file.
As was the case when SSA required representatives to file appeals electronically, representatives who request direct payment of fees have an affirmative duty to comply with this requirement. But the failure to access the file electronically does not affect SSA’s requirement to withhold and pay the representative directly. Instead, if there is a persistent refusals to access a file electronically, SSA may investigate to determine the reason for non-compliance and may sanction a representative who does not follow these rules, as described in 20 CFR 404.1745-1795 and 416.1545-1595. A claimant’s hearing request will not be rejected or delayed if the representative fails to comply with the electronic access requirement.