20,000 families lose child benefits after crackdown on false claims
MORE than 20,000 families have had their child benefit cut off after a Department of Social Protection campaign against ineligible claims.
And as well as losing their payments, some parents have been forced to hand back more than €3m that was overpaid to them.
This comes following depart-mental trawls to find out if people who had left the country were still getting child benefit paid into their bank accounts.
Close to half-a-million families have been sent letters in the past four years asking them to confirm they are still eligible and living at the address registered for them. During that period, 20,870 of these customers ended up having their child benefit payments stopped.
Just under 1pc of all customers who were sent letters did not reply within three months and had their payments suspended, the department told the Irish Independent.
It said it is in the middle of a fresh wave of controls which began last July with 179,054 eligibility certificates issued asking parents to verify they were entitled to child benefit.
So far, 1,788 people had not replied to these and their payments had been suspended.
The department said that since all these controls started, 5,723 customers had been found to have received overpayments for periods when they were not entitled to receive child benefit.
"Some of these relate to customers who replied to say that they had left the State and some who, on their return to Ireland, confirmed the period that they were out of the State," the department said. "To date some €3.37m has been recouped from these overpayments and this exercise is ongoing."
In some cases families had their payments cut off because they had moved address and did not receive the letter requesting they confirm eligibility for the payment.
However, the department has said previously that if this happened families were able to request it be reinstated and in cases of financial hardship these cases were dealt with on an emergency basis.
Child benefit payments are worth €130 a month per child up to 16 years of age or up to 18 if they are still in full-time education.
Under European Union law a parent from another EU country working in Ireland is entitled to claim child benefit even if their children live elsewhere in Europe. However, if both parents leave the country that entitlement stops.
Child benefit is only paid to non-EU families if a parent works here and the child also lives in Ireland.