Wednesday 21 February 2018

Airport blitz on dole cheats saves us €2.3m

167 suspected fraudsters investigated in major clampdown

joan burton
joan burton
Niall O'Connor

By Niall O'Connor

THE Department of Social Protection has investigated the activities of 167 suspected fraudsters as part of a major clampdown on 'welfare tourism'.

A total of €2.3m has been saved on behalf of the taxpayer since the launch of the operation, which sees individuals being stopped and questioned at the country's airports and ports.

Figures supplied by Joan Burton's office to the Herald show that sums totalling €60,000 have been directly paid back to the State by individuals caught fraudulently claiming social benefits while living overseas.

Seven cases have been successfully concluded in the courts while a number of others are outstanding.

In one case, a male individual was detected flying from Malaga to Cork on several occasions over a six month period to sign on for the dole. The man fraudulently claimed more than €6,000 ‑ all of which has now been paid back.

In another example provided by the department, a man fraudulently claimed social welfare to fund his lifestyle in Poland. He was fined €1,500 and has now repaid the money.

Since the operation was launched in 2012, 167 people have been investigated for suspected fraud.

The department's operation involves a team of social welfare inspectors who visit the country's ports and airports if they have "reasonable grounds" to believe an individual is committing fraud.

Provisions in the Social Welfare and Pension Act 2012 allow the inspectors to question individuals who are preparing to embark or who have landed off an air or ferry service.

The inspectors can request passengers to produce relevant documentation in order to prove that they are legitimately claiming benefits.

"Activity is confined to either directly interviewing the client on embarking/disembarking as well as observing a client embark/disembark with an interview subsequently being undertaken," a department spokesperson said.

"This provision is a very helpful addition in tackling welfare fraud where the person is not habitually resident in the State. It is also considered this measure is having deterrent impact on this type of practice.

"The Department adjusts it approach to all its control activity and fraud investigations in light of operational experience and all such activities are kept constantly under review including its activity in Airports."

A series of case studies supplied to The Herald detail how the State was defrauded by welfare tourists.

In one example, a Zimbabwean national was given a ten-month suspended sentence and required to leave the jurisdiction after being found to be fraudulently claiming benefits. They paid over €4,000 in cash by way of reparation.


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