Less than 1pc of jobless have had dole cut over work refusal
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton speaking at the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed's annual conference at Wynn's Hotel in Dublin yesterday. Steve Humphreys
LESS than 1pc of the 440,000 on the dole have had their payments cut because they have refused to take up work.
And an Irish Independent investigation has revealed that the Department of Social Protection is effectively powerless to force people to accept job offers.
The failures in the €20bn welfare system have emerged as figures show just 3,155 people had their jobseekers' payments cut off last year, despite over 437,000 signing onto the Live Register at the end of the year.
This represents just 0.72pc of all claims.
Last night the Department of Social Protection (DSP) -- which has the largest budget of any government department -- admitted it has no way of forcing people to accept a job offer.
It emerged there is no system in place to police whether jobseekers are turning down genuine work offers.
This is despite new legislation allowing for payments to be cut if those on the Live Register refuse to accept a "reasonable" job offer.
Responding to a series of questions on how the new legislation is being implemented, a spokeswoman for the DSP said it came into force four weeks ago and DSP staff were "advised of the disqualification provisions" which may now be applied.
But she confirmed there is no system in place to police whether any of 444,000 people on the Live Register turn down offers of work.
"As these arrangements are in the early stages of implementation a standard pattern of performance in this area has not yet emerged," she said.
"It is expected, however, that the Department are most likely to become aware of these situations through notification by the employer concerned."
However, no employer is currently required to notify the DSP if someone turns down a job offer. Earlier this year, 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 turned it down after telling the businessman they would receive more in social welfare.
Criteria are currently in place for DSP officers to decide if a job is "suitable" and these include looking at the claimaint's age, education, place of residence and family circumstances.
"Entitlement to payment is determined by a Deciding Officer in light of the facts and circumstances of each particular case," the spokeswoman said.
However, currently they can only cut or reduce payments if they believe someone is not actively looking for work, as there is no way of determining if a job offer has been made and refused.
Separate figures also show that just 17 people have seen their payments reduced for failing to engage with FAS. Some jobseekers are required to go for FAS training -- and they can see their payments reduced if they fail to do so.
Since it was introduced earlier this year just 17 people have seen their payments cut by up to €44 per week.
Yesterday Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton defended the system saying the Government wants to maintain social welfare rates -- but to also reform the system.
"I just want to make it absolutely plain that we can't as a country tolerate indefinitely a situation where somebody drifts onto the unemployment register and that becomes a lifetime occupation for 10 years or 20years," she said.
"I'm also saying as minister, that if people don't take up reasonable offers, then yes, and the legislation is there . . . if someone refuses a reasonable option, a reasonable opportunity or offer to either go back to work, to look for work, to be involved in training and education, well then they would suffer a cut and the legislation provides for a cut of something like €44 a week."
She accepted that since it started last month, only a "relatively small" number of people have seen a reduction in payments. And she warned it was important the system was not subject to abuse as it would be "undermined" and people would be unwilling to contribute.
A breakdown of the numbers who had their payments cut shows that last year 1,425 people were taken off the Live Register after they made a new social welfare claim. They were deemed not to be "genuinely seeking work" while a further 1,730 were cut off after being found to be "not available for work".
To date this year 1,109 new claimants have had payments axed for the same reasons.
Jobseekers Benefits is paid at €188 per week, totalling €9,776 per year. After a year the individual is moved onto means-tested Jobseekers Assistance.
Last year, 254 people were prosecuted for social welfare fraud.