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Friday 9 December 2016

€500k of tax payer’s money was accidentally given to imprisoned criminals

Ian Begley

Published 26/11/2016 | 16:59

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Almost €500k of tax payer’s money was accidentally given to imprisoned criminals last year by the Department of Social Protection.

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The Department told Independent.ie that the value of prisoners illegally claiming social welfare in 2015 was €442,362 or €880 on average.

At the end of 2015, €152,000 has been recouped to date and the expectation is that the majority of this will be recovered.

500 cases of over payments were identified last year arising from social welfare customers who were imprisoned. 171 of the cases identified in 2015 have been fully repaid and the process continues, according to The Department.

Prisoners are not entitled to claim social welfare, largely due to the State paying for their upkeep – shelter, food, medical expenses – while incarcerated.

Following the release of these figures, a spokesperson from the Department of Social Protection said: “The majority of people committed to prison resume income support from the Department following their release, which means the Department is in a position to recover the full value of any over-payments arising.

“The over-payment is recovered by means of a deduction (usually weekly) from any new benefit or assistance payment. The Department also has powers to make a mandatory deduction of up to 15% of the personal rate of social welfare weekly payment until the over-payment is recovered in full.

“Information on new prisoners is received weekly from the Irish Prison Services and processed internally by the Department of Social Protection. A customer may also receive additional income support in respect of a dependent adult and children,” said the spokesperson.

It is up to prisoners to notify the department when they are sent to prison because it is illegal for them to claim welfare.

It is understood that they are able to receive payments such as jobseekers' allowance because they are getting family members to collect the money or are getting it paid directly into their bank accounts. In some cases, relatives have posed as prisoners to collect welfare.

Prisoners claiming social welfare could be prosecuted and fined up to €2,500.

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