Investigation into social welfare claimants unearths €500m fraud
FRAUD worth more than €500m has been uncovered during an investigation of more than 900,000 social welfare payments made so far this year.
The Department of Social Protection says major savings have been achieved following a series of probes into payments including jobseeker's benefit and long-term illness.
Up to 40 officials will be given extra training to help them mount prosecutions as part of a crackdown on fraud.
The department is seeking companies to help officials collect evidence including electronic financial transfers and prepare books of evidence outlining allegations made against individuals.
A total of 90 staff work in the department's Special Investigations Unit, which tackles fraud, while officials who process payments made to 1.4 million people every week are also trained to detect cases where fraud may be occurring.
A spokeswoman said that more than 900,000 payments were reviewed this year, which involved officials telephoning and calling to recipients' homes to investigate if they were entitled to the benefits.
In some cases, detailed checks were carried out which included checking financial transactions and consulting databases, including those held by the Revenue Commissioners.
Among the payments checked were those made to lone parents, where officials checked if a person in receipt of the money was in fact living alone, and jobseeker's allowance, where it was suspected the recipient may have taken up employment.
Figures from the department show:
• A total of €501m has been saved in the first eight months of the year in the fraud crackdown.
• The department is on course to achieve savings of €645m this year.
• Some 1,331 employers and businesses were inspected to ensure that fraud was not being conducted.
• 917,114 individual payments were reviewed, ahead of a target of 780,000 for the year.
"We're on track to save €645m this year," a spokeswoman said. "The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) comprises of 90 officers whose exclusive function is that of fraud investigation, but officials who process payments also check."
Last year, some €21bn was spent on social welfare payments, 40pc of current government expenditure.
Some two million applications for benefits are made every year, with 1.4 million people receiving some form of payment.
An analysis of welfare fraud shows that people of working age are most likely to commit an offence. The main forms include people claiming an illness payment or jobseeker's benefit while working.
Others fail to disclose savings when claiming means-tested payments, while still others continue to claim payments when their circumstances have changed, for example the lone parent's allowance, which is only paid to parents living alone with their child.
The jobseeker's allowance, one-parent family, and disability allowance are the most common payments involving fraud.