Tuesday 12 December 2017

Social welfare fraudsters to have their pay docked 15pc

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

SOCIAL welfare fraudsters will have their wages docked by up to 15pc a week if they refuse to pay back what they owe.

Until now, it was difficult to pursue people who had obtained extra social welfare payments fraudulently or by mistake if they found work again. The only way to recover the funds from this group was to take court action, which was expensive and time-consuming.

But Social Protection Minister Joan Burton is now getting a new power to pursue social welfare fraudsters who are back in work and who are still refusing to pay back what they owe.

Her department will be able to get attachment orders requiring the employers of people who owe money to her department to dock their after-tax wages by up to 15pc every week.

It is similar to the approach being used to collect the property tax – which will also see people's wages docked by their employers if they do not pay the Revenue.

A spokesman for Ms Burton said she would be introducing an amendment to allow for wages to be deducted from people who were refusing to pay back social welfare overpayments.

"Orders will be used only as the very last step of the process, if the individual has repeatedly refused to engage with the department on the issue and ignored all demands, including final demand, for repayment," she said.


Last year, Ms Burton's department was owed around €92m in overpayments – with two-thirds of this due to mistaken payments and one-third due to fraud.

Ms Burton's spokesman said the use of the attachment orders to dock people's wages would be considered on a case-by-case basis. But he pointed out that it would be much quicker than the costly and time-consuming process of taking court proceedings against them.

"This will save the department time and resources and improve the department's debt recovery ability," he said.

Ms Burton is bringing in the new power via an amendment in the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013, which is being discussed in the Dail today.

The Department of Social Protection is owed an estimated €343m in overpayments. However, many of the people who owe the money are still on social welfare rather than back at work. Ms Burton recently got the power to dock their social welfare payments by 15pc per week – or around €28 out of a weekly dole payment of €188.

Ms Burton is currently under pressure to deliver a further €440m in cutbacks from her €20bn-plus social welfare budget in the forthcoming Budget, and any savings that can be made from reducing welfare overpayments will ease this.

Irish Independent

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