€400,000 bill to send welfare staff between offices
SENDING social welfare officials between Dublin and eight decentralised offices is costing taxpayers more than €400,000 a year.
The expenses were paid to 620 Department of Social Welfare officers who had to journey between Dublin and Longford, Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon, Buncrana, Dundalk, Waterford and Roscommon.
Overnight costs such as hotel bills and meals accounted for most of the expenses bills, according to figures obtained by the Irish Independent under Freedom of Information.
The Department of Social Welfare said that officials would travel back to Dublin from the decentralised offices for a variety of reasons.
However, most of the travel related to training courses and meetings being held in the capital.
Financial management groups of officials from different regions would also hold regular meetings in Dublin.
The department officials also include medical assessors who carry out examinations countrywide in relation to people on disability or illness allowances.
Travel and subsistence rates for civil servants were reduced in 2009 and the normal overnight rate stands at about €100.
The department says staff claim travel expenses in the course of carrying out their duties and for various work-related requirements such as attending business meetings and training courses.
Appeals officers travel to many provincial areas for hearings.
Travel between Sligo and Dublin accounts for the single biggest amount of travel and subsistence expenses, a total of €147,326.
Travel by bus accounted for €13,324 of the total claimed, taxis accounted for €1,735, while a further €1,231 was paid out for motorway toll charges.
A total of 250 staff were decentralised to new social welfare offices in Sligo and Carrick-on-Shannon in 2007.
The number of staff who travelled between Dublin and decentralised offices and vice versa in 2011 were: Dublin and all decentralised offices (213), Longford and Dublin (71), Sligo and Dublin (136), Carrick-on-Shannon and Dublin (55), Buncrana and Dublin (26), Dundalk and Dublin (51), Letterkenny and Dublin (26), Waterford and Dublin (30), and Roscommon and Dublin (12).
The Irish Independent recently revealed that sending officials from Ireland's overseas aid agency back and forth between Limerick and Dublin was costing taxpayers more than €170,000 a year.
Irish Aid -- the State's charitable arm for developing countries, which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs -- was one of the first state agencies to be relocated outside of the capital under the controversial decentralisation programme in 2007.
But the move added significant costs as officials still have to travel between both cities.