1-in-4 lone parent claims are bogus
Joan Burton: 'crackdown to stop fraud that hurts the weak and elderly'
One in four lone parent benefit claims for single mothers and fathers are bogus, a "shocking" new report from the Department of Social Protection reveals.
Fraudulent claims are costing the taxpayer millions each year, but are being aggressively targeted as the Government tries to find major expenditure savings, as demanded by the EU/ECB/IMF troika.
Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe, a leading member of the Public Accounts Committee, last night called for a "zero tolerance" attitude toward these fraudsters, who he said were "taking the taxpayer for a ride".
The new report, 'Fraud Initiative 2011-2013' states boldly that 'One Parent Family' and disability allowances have "shown more pronounced incidences of fraud risks compared to other schemes".
Other schemes including the State contributory pension have shown very low levels of fraud.
As revealed by the new report, as a part of a targeted investigation of lone parent payment recipients, who receive up to €188 per week, more than one quarter of those examined had payments terminated on the basis that they were bogus.
Out of 270 cases reviewed, savings were achieved in 82 of the reviews with the termination of 67 of the allowances.
In a separate investigation, 2,862 people suspected of not being resident in the State were examined and 308 people had their payments terminated following an "intervention" by the Special Investigations Unit within the department. Those terminations realised a saving of €3.24m to the taxpayer, or more than €105,000 per case.
According to the department, these specific projects were targeted at cases where it had intelligence to indicate or suspicions of fraudulent behaviour.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, who commissioned the report, has this weekend described the level of fraud and abuse in some key areas such as the benefits to lone parents as "very shocking".
Since taking office, Ms Burton has demanded increased co-operation between her department, the gardai and police in the North and in mainland Britain to counter "welfare tourists" from ripping off the system.
Since the beginning of the recession, the numbers claiming social welfare payments and the numbers trying to defraud the system have soared. This year, welfare expenditure will total €21bn, or 40 per cent of all current government spending.
Ms Burton said €625m would be realised by her department next year through the anti-fraud control plan.
She said the figures set out in the case studies could not be extrapolated to estimate levels of fraud nationally. But some have suggested welfare fraud cost be costing as much as €2bn a year.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday, Ms Burton said that a major crackdown on fraud had been undertaken since her arrival .
"It must be stressed that the vast majority of people who claim benefits are genuine. But, in certain areas there were shocking levels of fraud and abuse. That fraud hurts pensioners and genuine claimants the hardest."
She added that there has been an increase of people informing the department of cases of fraudulent claims, which has aided significantly in the fight against abuse.
She said: "The special investigations unit has been there but since becoming minister I have insisted the emphasis was shifted to enable this far more targeted and focused approach in tackling this fraud. I mean it is accepted that fraud accounts for between 1 and 3 per cent, which in a budget of over €20bn is quite significant."
Mr Donohoe, who has led the charge against welfare fraud, said it was no longer tolerable that taxpayers be exposed to such exploitation.