Hundreds of inmates caught claiming dole
HUNDREDS of prisoners have been caught illegally drawing down the dole from behind bars as part of a clampdown by welfare officials.
About €1.5m was paid out to inmates being kept in Irish prisons in 2012, according to new figures obtained by the Irish Independent.
On average, €1,900 was illegally claimed by inmates, most of whom failed to notify the Department of Social Protection that they had been sent to prison.
According to the department's figures, a total of 787 'overpayments' were identified during the 12-month period.
But the overall sum paid out by welfare officials is lower than previous years following the launch of a 'data sharing' initiative by the department and the Irish Prison Service (IPS).
In 2011, around €2m was paid out to prisoners who illegally received average payments of €3,300.
The department now receives information from the Prison Service on a weekly basis which it uses to compare with its welfare records. Prison officials send reports each Monday to their counterparts in Social Protection which detail the prisoners who have been committed and the people who have been released.
Where the department confirms that a person is in receipt of a social welfare payment and is in prison, the payment is terminated.
Welfare officials then seek to use the appropriate mechanisms to recover the money that had been illegally claimed.
The department also deals with cases where a person collects a welfare payment in respect of another person who is in prison.
Such cases are referred by welfare inspectors to An Garda Siochana for investigation, the department said.
While there has been a reduction in the level of overpayments, Fianna Fail last night described the scale of the money being paid out as "outrageous".
The party's Social Protection spokesperson Willie O'Dea said the level of welfare fraud continues to cause a "huge drain" on the country's finances.
"Joan Burton has made such a song and dance about cracking down on welfare fraud. But as we can see, taxpayers money is still being misspent to an unacceptable degree," he said.