Friday 24 March 2017

Plan to halt welfare cheating vague on finer details

Mark Hilliard

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton launched her three-year plan to stamp out welfare fraud yesterday but remained vague on many of the finer details.

Although the initiative contains a number of decisive elements -- including the launch of a €24m biometric card system to frustrate identity theft -- many elements are uncertain in terms of when and how they will be implemented.

As part of its plans, the Department of Social Protection has promised to find new ways to recover over-payments to welfare recipients.

However, it could not clarify exactly when, saying only that a "legislative working group had been established".

Ms Burton's initiative also mentioned increased penalties for those operating in the "hidden economy" -- where people work but dodge tax.

Penalties

Work is under way on proposals for the Social Welfare Bill 2012, although any increase to penalties remains unclear -- district court prosecutions currently carry a maximum fine of €2,500 or up to six months in prison.

Ms Burton's department also plans for "greater liaison" with employers to gather information on labour-market trends.

The 37-page document, entitled 'Fraud Initiative 2011--2013', refers to "plans to hold a consultation forum on the fraud initiative in 2011 with all stakeholders" but does not give any details.

However, it has already carried out eight regional seminars in order to gauge feedback.

A squeeze on illegal activity is hoped to save €625m next year, an increase of €85m on 2011.

Next month will also see the roll-out of the biometric card system which will have annual running costs of up to €4m.

Irish Independent

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