Wednesday 24 May 2017

Tip-offs on welfare cheats helped State to save €110m

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

The taxpayer is facing an avalanche of false claims for social welfare payments, but anonymous tip-offs from neighbours and other informants have helped catch hundreds of fraudsters.

The number of cheats applying for State benefits almost doubled in the first five months of this year.

However, a major crackdown on fraudulent claims saved the Department of Social Protection nearly €110m between January and May of this year.

The social welfare budget of just over €21bn is the highest spending area within the national budget.

A key element in unmasking the cheats has been a big increase in tip-offs from neighbours and other members of the public.

They have provided intelligence about people claiming payments to which they were not entitled, including illness and disability benefit, jobseekers' payments and payments under the one-parent family scheme.

Another part of the clampdown is the introduction of more audits into the system.

A survey into job seekers' allowance found that one in 10 people investigated over dole payments were found to be receiving more benefits than they were entitled to.

The survey, which looked at 1,000 random cases, found that 11 per cent of benefit recipients were getting more than they should have been.

Fraud was suspected in 3 per cent of cases, but officials' errors accounted for 4.1 per cent.

Minister for Social Protection Eamon O Cuiv is putting together plans to get even tougher against fraudulent claims.

Mr O Cuiv believes false claims for child benefit, co-habiting couples claiming two rent allowances and working people in the black economy drawing unemployment benefit are among the major problem areas.

A department team is looking at radical proposals to streamline the social welfare system and help tackle fraud as well as bringing long-term savings in administration.

One way of separating valid and invalid claims that is already operating is a new initiative to send letters out to all recipients of child benefit, asking them to confirm their residence.

If there is no response after three months, the payments are cut off.

One of the more radical proposals being looked at by the minister is the introduction of a single family payment. This would cut out a huge number of different claims forms.

According to Fine Gael TD John Deasy, the social welfare system has evolved into a bureaucratic Frankenstein that penalises enterprise.

He warned that Ireland is facing a social time-bomb over the failure of the social welfare system to deal with the needs of thousands of self-employed people who cannot access social welfare.

Figures from the Quarterly National Household Survey reveal that just under 60,000 businessmen and self-employed individuals have lost their jobs and businesses since 2007.

The figures reveal that since 2007 there are 30,000 fewer self-employed individuals in the labour force while 27,000 businesses have gone to the wall.

Those who leave the safety of PAYE do not qualify for back-to-education grants or for any form of re-training.

Sunday Independent

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