Minister rejects risk of €100m bill from back-claims over welfare cuts
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has rejected claims that her department allows private sub-contractors to effectively decide welfare cuts for people seen to have failed to engage in back-to-work efforts.
Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea said that up to 55,000 people have had their welfare reduced or disallowed over the past eight years on the recommendations of two British-based companies acting for the Social Protection Department. The companies, Seetac and Turas Nua, are engaged in training and other measures aimed at encouraging people to move off welfare.
Mr O'Dea said the private companies were exceeding their powers and the department was accepting the firms' recommendations of welfare cuts without question. He argued that a successful test case could have serious consequences for taxpayers - exposing them to back-claims totalling €100m.
The Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman said that between 2011 and 2018, 55,000 people had their welfare payments reduced or completely disallowed in these circumstances.
But a spokesman for the Ms Doherty rejected Mr O'Dea's arguments out of hand.
"The deputy's claims are untrue and without foundation," Ms Doherty's spokesman said, adding that when Mr O'Dea was a minister there was record unemployment and economic free-fall, compared with effective full employment now.
"It is absolutely incorrect and disingenuous to suggest that the department rubber-stamps, or virtually automatically accepts recommendations from contracted activation providers such as JobPath contractors, to reduce a jobseeker's payment," the spokesman said.
He stressed that contractors, or others engaged in training and back-to-work schemes, had no role in cutting people's welfare.
It was the job of department officials - called "deciding officers" - and anyone who had been penalised had the right to appeal.
Mr O'Dea said the numbers had risen progressively over the years with 359 penalisations in 2011 up to 11,200 in 2018.
"It is being decided in practice by private companies and not by the department," Mr O'Dea insisted.