Friday 22 September 2017

Woman repaid after being told she owed €20k in social welfare

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall stepped in when the woman contacted his office to complain after the social welfare office did not respond when she sought an explanation for the debt
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall stepped in when the woman contacted his office to complain after the social welfare office did not respond when she sought an explanation for the debt

Anne-Marie Walsh

Leo Varadkar's department had to refund a woman it claimed was overpaid almost €20,000 in social welfare payments.

A new report reveals the woman was contacted by her local social welfare office and told she had to foot a €19,900 bill.

But an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman found the Department of Social Protection completely miscalculated the unnamed woman's income a number of times.

It found that not only had there been no overpayment, the woman was entitled to a refund of €700.

The department discovered her application was not processed properly and that calculations of her husband's income did not take account of an illness that meant it had been cut.

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall stepped in when the woman contacted his office to complain after the social welfare office did not respond when she sought an explanation for the debt.

His office examined more complaints in relation to the Department of Social Protection than any other public sector organisation last year.

It investigated 663 complaints in relation to the department, although this was a significant drop from the 859 complaints made in 2015. Mr Tyndall said this reduction could be expected in a country emerging from recession.

However, in his annual report for last year he said he noticed an increase in the number of complaints in the past two years from people who were contacted by the department demanding repayments.

Concerns

He said the overpayments claimed by the department ranged from €1,000 to more than €100,000 and related to a lengthy timespan, from over 20 years ago to quite recently.

Mr Tyndall said he had "significant concerns" about how the overpayments were being handled, so began an investigation, which is still under way.

He has upheld 60pc of the complaints that have been dealt with and the department has written off the overpayments.

He said that the department has strong powers of recovery, but must improve its procedures.

The Ombudsman's annual report for last year reveals that of the top five public service providers, complaints about the HSE and Student Universal Support Ireland rose last year.

A total of 569 complaints were made against the HSE, compared with 567 the previous year, while there were 82 complaints in relation to the student support body, compared with 79 in 2015. Complaints relating to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Revenue Commissioners dropped.

Irish Independent

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