Monday 18 March 2019

Garda checks at industrial estates to clamp down on welfare cheats

Aideen Sheehan

GARDAI are to set up checkpoints on industrial estates and at airports in an attempt to weed out social welfare cheats.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has confirmed that gardai will be taken on by her department directly to tackle the issue.

However, she had to move to clarify that they would be targeting "industrial estates" rather than "housing estates" after sparking confusion earlier yesterday.

Her initial comments on Newstalk radio merely referred to checkpoints on "estates", which led listeners to believe that they would be targeting people driving out of their homes.

Ms Burton is aiming to claw back an extra €30m in savings for her department next year through a new crackdown on fraud.

This is on top of an existing systematic programme where around 3,000 social welfare cases a month are reviewed for suspected fraud or abuse.

Departmental figures show that between January and August of this year, 23,460 social welfare cases were reviewed with payments halted in 2,351 cases and reduced in another 518 cases.

Speaking on Newstalk radio yesterday, Ms Burton said that the gardai would be on the look-out for people claiming benefits while also working.

"I don't think there's any such thing as an acceptable level (of social welfare fraud) . . . we've made huge strides," she said.

"We will be taking on a number of gardai directly into the Department of Social Welfare for a period of time to concentrate on areas like airports.

"People who may be coming in and out in relation to still claiming benefits. That's 50/50 Irish people and people who came from abroad.

"We will also be looking at areas like checkpoints in estates and on roads early in the morning as people who otherwise are claiming benefits are actually in fact going off to work."

The department's crackdown on fraud in recent years has been helped by a surge in the number of tip-offs by members of the public.

Last year, over 28,000 reports were received, which is over double the level of cases reported three years ago.

All such anonymous tip-offs are examined and referred to the department's inspectors for further action if required, though some are discounted as they can be mistaken or motivated by malice.

Ms Burton has noted the changed public attitude towards perpetrators of fraud and the willingness to report such cases.

Department surveys estimate the levels of fraud in various payment schemes as 1.2pc of disability allowance payments, 2.3pc of one-parent family payments, 0.1pc of jobseeker's benefit and 0.5pc of child benefit payments.

Control measures also help to prevent overpayments by weeding out unqualified claims – even if there is no malicious intent to defraud the system.

Irish Independent

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