Thursday 26 April 2018

Ten-fold increase in welfare fraudster tip-offs

Aine Kerr

SNITCHING on social welfare fraudsters has increased 10-fold in the past two years, with dole recipients bearing the brunt of the anonymous tip-offs.

An online fraud report system launched this month has received 187 tip-offs from members of the public during the first 10 days of operation.

Overall, the number of tip-offs by anonymous phonecall, email or letter has increased dramatically from 604 in 2007 to 6,400 last year, figures reveal.

During the economic downturn, with the public suffering pay cuts and redundancies, the statistics reflected an increased appetite to report those breaching rules and unfairly obtaining taxpayers' money.

Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin personally received dozens of the anonymous tip-offs last year.

The total fraud and error savings in 2009 amounted to €484m, falling short of target, but representing an increase of €8m on 2008.

And the rate of anonymous reporting peaked in July and August -- during the summer months, when people were on holidays and were more likely to notice the movements of their neighbours.

A breakdown of the tip-offs, obtained by the Irish Independent revealed that 2,274 individual alleged dole cheats were reported on.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Family Affairs said these cases involved people who were allegedly claiming the dole while working.

Meanwhile, Supplementary Welfare Allowance drew 1,172 tip-offs; the One Parent Family Allowance drew 1,209 tip-offs, followed by the Illness Benefit and Child Benefit, which drew 787 and 202 tip-offs respectively. Other benefits and payments resulted in 755 anonymous tip-offs.

Investigations into One Parent Family Allowance recipients found some single parents were claiming the payment while living with their partner.

A range of new anti-fraud powers are being finalised by Ms Hanafin which will allow her officials to scan the bank accounts of suspected welfare cheats, and will allow inspectors to stop welfare recipients on roads without needing the gardai present.

In the bid to clamp down on welfare cheats, more than 750,000 social welfare payment reviews were undertaken in 2009 -- 20pc more than the annual target.

The minister recognised that there were a small number of welfare schemes, and some groups of claimants, which present a higher risk. A number of individual surveys have highlighted a high level of risk that non-Irish nationals could claim welfare payments to which they are no longer entitled after they have left the State.

However, Fine Gael's Olwyn Enright claimed Ms Hanafin had been "exaggerating" her track record in tackling social welfare fraud, having missed last year's target by €132.5m.

"The Government's failure to make serious inroads into fraudulent practices resulted in savage cuts of 6pc in social welfare payments to the most vulnerable members of society last year," Ms Enright said.

Irish Independent

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