One-in-10 lone parent payments 'are fraud'
In many cases mother and father were found to be living together
Almost 20 per cent of disability allowance payments were terminated and more than one-in-10 lone parent payments were identified as "suspected fraud", shocking new Department of Social Protection investigation reports have revealed.
On foot of concerns from the Comptroller and Auditor General, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton initiated three separate investigations into payments to lone parents, the disabled and job seekers, which will total €7.56bn this year.
The 'Fraud and Error' reports, which were handed to Ms Burton last month, examined over 1,000 cases in each payment segment, and a host of systemic errors and system flaws, as well as fraudulent claims, were identified and terminated.
• Out of 1,000 lone parent cases examined at random, "a total of 105 cases were identified as 'suspected fraud', which resulted in a decrease or termination of payment," the report stated.
• Out of 1,011 disability cases examined at random, "175 claims were terminated", mainly because medical eligibility was "no longer satisfied". A number of the payments were later reinstated on appeal.
In relation to lone parents, a large number of the cases, over one-third, were ended because the parents were found to be cohabiting, suspected to be cohabiting or were actually married.
The report concluded that out of the 1,000 cases examined, there was customer error in 220 cases. Departmental error was found in 16 cases.
Out of the "suspected fraud and error" cases identified, 71 were terminated, with over half resulting from a "change in relationship status". Nine others were axed following interviews with inspectors.
Of those terminated, however, 75 per cent of those terminated began claiming other welfare benefits.
"A large proportion of cases necessitating a reduction or termination of payment arose because the customer failed to notify the department of a change of status."
The report also stated that many suspected cases went unchanged because of a lack of time to properly investigate the circumstances.
"In some instances the inspector has suspicions of cohabiting. However, due to time constraints this could not be proved. These cases were returned as no change," the report stated.
The report also highlighted a failure by local welfare offices to follow through on notifications in order to properly amend claim levels in cases.
"There was a number of cases where a small change of earnings was notified in the review but a means review assessment was not carried out by the local office."
It also identified deficiencies in local offices in "targeting fraudulent customers and to deter fraudulent claims".
In the area of disability payments, which amount to €3.44bn a year, the investigation report said that 175 out of 1,011 claims were "terminated" on the grounds of medical eligibility no longer being satisfied. A number of these claims were subsequently reinstated on appeal.
Despite their termination, many of those cut off have since been transferred to alternative payments.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Ms Burton highlighted the low fraud rate in jobseekers but accepted that fraud rates in lone parents and disability payments were still unacceptably high.
She said: "The gross rate of fraud in lone parents was very high, whereas on jobseekers benefit it was very low. If somebody is very, very long-term on invalidity or disability, the chances that they do not have a serious disability/ invalidity is actually very low, but if they're on it only for a very short period of time... well, then it's much more queryable," she said.
"One of the reasons for reforming lone parents is that we ensure that it's targeted at the lone parents who need the support."