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New IT systems enable state agencies to share more data

RECENT crackdowns on tax and social welfare fraud have been made possible by the installation of new computer systems.

Earlier systems did not allow for information to be easily shared between state agencies, meaning that one government department could not 'talk' to another and allow access to personal data.

The volume of information needed to conduct a major trawl of social welfare recipients -- whether pensioners, single parents or people in receipt of disability payments -- would be so vast that it would not be practical to produce the information in paper form.

Budget documents reveal that the Revenue Commissioners has upgraded its computer systems and now seeks a wider range of data from the Department of Social Protection

This allows collection rates to be improved, and the new system expects to generate more than €40m this year.

Other government departments and agencies have also installed new systems, allowing it to track state payments to ensure that tax is being paid.

Last year the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) invested in a new IT system which allows it to process data about landlords in receipt of state payments from the Department of Social Protection and local authorities.

Landlords must register their properties, but many don't and still receive payments, which can be up to €1,100 a month.

A trawl found that half the landlords who get rent supplement payments did not have their properties registered. More than 10,000 landlords have been warned to register or else face prosecution.

It is also planned to use data on the second home tax, Rental Accommodation Scheme payments made by local authorities, and rent supplement payments to identify offenders.

A change in the law will also allow access to data from the Revenue Commissioners.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has targeted criminals illegally claiming welfare payments despite being in jail or on the run, while a trawl of payments to pensioners found that almost €20m has been paid over the past two years to people who were dead.

There are strict rules governing how personal data held by government departments is used and shared.

The Department of Social Protection and Revenue Commissioners have extensive powers to seek information to collect taxes or combat fraud, and other department must have a legal basis for requesting access to information.

The Data Protection Commissioner has clear guidelines. They include 'demonstrable justification', or proof that sharing the information justifies overriding individual data protection rights.

Irish Independent