Sunday 24 September 2017

Pensioners' free travel scheme hit by rampant fraud

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

A crackdown on the abuse of free travel passes for pensioners has uncovered widespread fraud, the Irish Independent has learned.

The scheme, which may be part of a hitlist for cuts in the Budget, is being abused on a daily basis across the country.

Inspectors have discovered examples of the passes being used by other family members, and passengers using fake, invalid or stolen passes.

A spokesman for Irish Rail confirmed it issued 1,300 fines already this year for abuse of the pass, which accounts for more than half of the penalties issued.

A spokeswoman said that an average of 10 to 20 passes a day were now being confiscated at its city centre rail stations.

"It is not possible to detect all fraudulent activity and some misuse will go undetected," she added.

Bus Eireann said it was confiscating an average of 50 passes a month after cheats were caught by inspectors.

Dublin Bus said it had issued 488 penalties for misuse of the pass to date this year.

A spokeswoman said all passes that were suspected of being unauthentic or invalid were investigated by Dublin Bus's Revenue Protection Unit and the information passed to the Department of Social Protection.

The department has frozen funding for the scheme at 2010 levels and it cost €75.5m last year, covering 720,000 customers. When spouse and companion passes are taken into account, there are more than 1.1 million customers eligible for free travel.

A spokeswoman said: "The department actively engages with all operators in the prevention of fraud and provides all necessary assistance insofar as is practicable."

The Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport and Social Protection earlier this year asked for an inter-departmental working group to be established to examine and report on the operation and future development of the Free Travel scheme.

It is "still in its early stages".

Irish Independent

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