Thursday 22 August 2019

'She makes at least €100 per day and has a Facebook page' - Dole cheat single mum 'ran gym in back garden'

Surge in tip-offs to benefit-fraud hotline nets the taxpayer €21m in the past two years

Last year, there were an incredible 16,456 allegations of welfare fraud made to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar’s department (Stock picture)
Last year, there were an incredible 16,456 allegations of welfare fraud made to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar’s department (Stock picture)
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

An increase in tip-offs to social welfare fraud investigators has seen members of the public report neighbours for running gyms and car valet businesses while claiming State benefits.

Dole cheats have also been accused of claiming social welfare while owning and training racehorses. Another alleged fraudster was accused of claiming Jobseeker's Allowance while charging up to €1,200 to remodel kitchens. The same person was alleged to have a "large sum of cash" from the sale of two properties.

A number of young mothers have been accused by neighbours of claiming One-Parent Family Payment while living with the father of their children.

The details of the alleged fraudsters are contained in never-before-seen logs of tip-offs to the Department of Social Protection's anti-fraud phone line, or through an online complaint form. The massive increase in reports to social welfare officials has seen the taxpayer claw back €21m in the last two years alone.

Last year, there were an incredible 16,456 allegations of welfare fraud made to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar's department, and by October this year there were already 15,541 complaints. The number of anonymous reports made to the department has shot up 150pc, when you compare figures for between January and September this year against accusations lodged during the same period in 2015.

The majority of the complaints centre on allegations of people working and claiming welfare benefits. Accusations of people cohabiting but claiming to be separated are the second most common complaints. Other allegations involve individuals claiming social welfare payments while living in other countries but failing to tell the Department of Social Protection they are no longer resident in Ireland.

Officials also receive tip-offs about people who have failed to fully disclose their savings or earnings while being means tested for a welfare payment.

A log of one complaint reads: "Caller alleges that above named is working and claiming a social welfare payment. He also has land and horses, he currently has a horse in training for racing. He is a self-employed builder and does all his work for cash. He undercuts the caller on all jobs."

There are also accusations of people claiming multiple payments by using the identities of dead people or criminals who are in prison.

Lone parents have been reported to the Department for continuing to claim benefits despite marrying and living with a partner. One complaint read: "I reported this yesterday but forgot to state that she is a lone parent and is running a gym at the back of the house. She charges €9 per person per group and €20 for personal training.

"She makes at least €100 per day and her day starts at 9.30am and classes go on so as to suit her clients until 9pm some nights. She has a Facebook page to make appointments," the caller added.

Around 72pc of reports are sent for further examination and investigation.

However, some reports result in more than one investigation having to be undertaken. The remaining reports lack information or no benefit is being paid, or the information reported did not impact on the customer's entitlement to their payment.

The Department said around a quarter of all reports result in payments being stopped.

Jobseeker's Allowance is the most commonly abused scheme with 4,769 reviews of payments undertaken by welfare investigators so far this year.

One-Parent Family benefits are the second most abused social welfare payments with 3,008 reviews.

Anonymous reports can be made by phone, post or through the Department's online complaint form.

Around 80pc of reports were generated through the internet-reporting facility, 14pc were received by telephone.

The final 6pc are generally made confidentially through the post.

"This data does not include reports made to local offices, scheme areas, inspectors or staff members in the normal course of their work," a Department of Social Protection spokesman said.

"While there is often a perception of fraud, when a case is examined, the individual may be doing something that is allowed under the rules for the particular scheme," he added.

Under the Department's protocols for dealing with anonymous reports, the information provided can only be used as a 'trigger' for a review of a customer's entitlement. The report itself does not constitute evidence and is not associated with the customer's record or file.

Sunday Independent

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