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Thursday 19 October 2017

Benefits fraudsters face being named and shamed and cuts to payments under new laws

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar TD at the publication of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017 at Government Buildings, Dublin. (Gareth Chaney, Collins)
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar TD at the publication of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017 at Government Buildings, Dublin. (Gareth Chaney, Collins)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Perpetrators of welfare fraud are to face tougher penalties and the prospect of being ‘named and shamed’ under legislation proposed by social protection minister Leo Varadkar.

At present, the only penalty that many convicted of the crime face is repaying the money they took.

“I don’t think that’s an adequate penalty,” Mr Varadkar said, adding that in such cases fines may or may not be imposed.

The proposed Social Welfare and Pensions Bill would see convicted benefits fraudsters suffer cuts to benefits payments they receive for nine weeks.

The names and addresses of convicted individuals - including the penalties imposed on them - would also be published by the Department on a quarterly basis.

Mr Varadkar hopes to have the legislation enacted before the Dáil and Seanad’s summer recess.

His Department recently kicked off an advertising campaign encouraging the public to report people they suspect of welfare fraud.

Mr Varadkar responded to criticism of the campaign saying that while welfare fraud may be “relatively uncommon”, if even a half of one percent of claims are bogus, it amounts to €100m.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said, adding: “Even a tiny saving from a campaign like this can be recycled and used and given to those who are honest and who are entitled to these payments.”

He said that the €200,000 cost of the campaign - which includes VAT - could be recouped if as few as 20 people making €10,000 in fraudulent claims are detected.

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