independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Welfare fraud crackdown will include home visits

Joan Burton: to review 780,000 welfare claims

ALMOST 800,000 individual social welfare claims are to be reviewed this year in a major crackdown on fraud.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has said inspectors will use "tried-and-tested" methods to cut down on fraudulent claims -- including home visits.

Her department will review 780,000 claims and carry out checks on people whose "lifestyle and display of wealth" indicate they are not depending on social welfare alone.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Ms Burton said there would be tried-and-tested measures to cut down on social welfare fraud -- such as vetting applications to make sure people were genuine and inviting people in for interview.

And she said there would be visits by social welfare inspectors to ensure that people were really available for work and that they "are where they say they are".

"The economic situation is very difficult; we can't afford to tolerate social welfare fraud. It takes money off people like old age pensioners who need the money," Ms Burton said.

The Department of Social Protection is going to carry out 1,250 reviews of people on disability allowance -- which costs €1bn per year -- to check if they are eligible to receive it.

It will co-operate with the Revenue to investigate the black economy, which is reportedly booming in the recession.

"People working in the black economy undermine legitimate businesses which are contributing taxes and are employing workers paying PAYE and PRSI," Ms Burton said.

Last year, 254 people were prosecuted for social welfare fraud, with 165 people fined and eight sent to jail.

The size of the maximum fine was raised in January from €1,500 to €2,500. The Government has promised that social welfare rates will be maintained and Ms Burton said spending by people on social welfare was critical to the maintenance of demand in the economy.

She said that while social welfare rates here were high compared to elsewhere, there was a need to compare "like with like".

Expensive

"One of the reasons for the differences in Ireland is the cost of living. It's traditionally an expensive country and people have to pay for more services like GPs, like chemists and in particular for younger couples, the cost of childcare," she said.

Ms Burton is planning to go ahead with plans to create a "one-stop shop" for the unemployed. They will be able to meet social welfare officers to make an application, contact community welfare officers to apply for emergency assistance and deal with FAS staff to get training.

Last month, the Irish Independent reported the case of a businessman who offered a permanent job with a salary of €28,000 to two workers who had been unemployed for two years. But both of them turned it down because they got more in social welfare from the State.

Ms Burton said she hoped that situations like this would be examined by the new Commission on Taxation and Social Welfare to "make work pay".

Ms Burton also said that the commission would examine the issue of child benefit payments, which she has been unable to guarantee will remain the same in the next Budget.

Irish Independent

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