Fraud probe as schools claim too much cash under meals scheme
GardaÍ have been called in to investigate suspected fraud in the operation of the school meals schemes.
Under two schemes operated by the Department of Social Protection, schools can claim the costs of providing meals for disadvantaged children.
But according to a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General, an audit by the department in 2011 flagged concerns about inflated pupil numbers and inflated supplier costs.
"It discovered irregularities of around €802,000 in two schools," said C&AG Seamus McCarthy.
The same year an audit of 11 schools uncovered irregularities involving more than €102,000. These issues were referred to gardaí.
In the case of one school under investigation, the total overpayment amounted to €402,873.
Mr McCarthy provided general details about six cases investigated.
In five of the six, overpayments arose from inflated pupil numbers or false returns being made to the department.
In three cases, the money was used to buy non-food items.
A court case is pending in relation to one of the six schools, three cases have been closed, and two are still under review.
The report said the schools involved were being allowed to "run down" overpayments by continuing to pay for the school meals scheme in their schools through their own resources.
"In doing so, the department seeks to maintain a balance between continuing to provide a service to children in need of support and recovery of excess payments," he said.
The report found there were currently no checks to ensure there is no duplication in applying for funding.
It also found there were no checks in place to independently verify the number of pupils claimed for by organisations.