100,000 people have dole cut in overpayment clampdown
Published 03/06/2014 | 02:30
MORE than 100,000 welfare recipients had their €188 dole payments cut last year because they had been overpaid, the Irish Independent can reveal.
The clampdown was part of a €70m recovery operation undertaken by Minister Joan Burton's Social Protection department to combat fraud.
New documents from the department, seen by the Irish Independent, show that because of increased enforcement powers introduced last year, there has been a significant increase in the numbers who have had their payments cut.
The new measures, which came into effect in February 2013, allow Ms Burton's officials to claw back up to €28, or 15pc, of the weekly dole payment of €188. This they say has led to a 30pc spike in "overpayment recoveries".
Under the new act, the department can also get an attachment to earnings and monies held in bank accounts by those who have been overpaid in a bid to recoup the excess payments. According to the documents, €35m was recouped from 103,000 people by reducing their weekly payments, while another €35m was gathered from other sources such as bank accounts.
This compares to just over 55,000 cases in 2010 which amounted to €35m and 82,000 cases in 2012 which amounted to €53m, the documents show.
The tough new powers are proving to "be a useful tool" in forcing people no longer in need of State support into a repayment scheme.
The documents were sent by Niamh O'Donoghue, secretary general of the Department of Social Protection to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which had sought clarity on its fraud detection competence.
The shocking figures were revealed as it has emerged that three Social Welfare public servants "colluded" with third parties to defraud the taxpayer of €1.3m. The PAC was told last month that two of the cases are under Garda investigation.
One staff member, working in the community welfare division, allegedly colluded with an undisclosed number of outside parties over a six-year period between 2006 and 2012 to scam the taxpayer of between €1m and €1.1m.
The documents also reveal that the controversial €10 cuts to child benefit, announced in budget 2013, affected 1,164,000 children in 609,900 families.
Monthly child benefit rates were cut by €10 to €130, while the rates for the third child was cut from €148 to €130. The rates for the fourth and subsequent children were cut from €160 to €140 a month.
The documents also reveal that of the 78,246 recipients across the country who receive lone parents allowance, 76,783 of those were female and just 1,463 were male, a ratio of 52.5 to one.