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Sunday 21 January 2018

Unemployed face sign-on changes in bid to beat welfare fraud

Dole queue in Clondalkin. Photo: Mark Condren
Dole queue in Clondalkin. Photo: Mark Condren
Aideen Sheehan

Aideen Sheehan

THE Department of Social Protection has launched a fresh crackdown on potential welfare fraud by requiring unemployed people to sign on at very short notice.

The department has begun issuing letters to some jobseekers, warning them they are being placed on "selective signing". This means they are no longer on monthly signing but will be written to a few days beforehand telling them the date and time to sign on.

The move is believed to be part of a crackdown on potential welfare tourism where people travel from other countries to sign on for benefits, and on people doing nixers while claiming the dole.

Unemployed people who miss these short-notice appointments could face delays to payments until the following week and there will be no exceptions to this, the hardline letter states.

"You may be required to sign any day of the week at any time but the letter that will be posted to you will inform you of the relevant details," it says.

"If you fail to sign on the correct date at the correct time you will not be allowed to sign at any other stage until the following Monday. This will result in your payment being delayed until the Thursday of that week. There will be absolutely no exceptions to this," it says.

Claimants will also have to bring the letter with them when they are signing on.

One such letter issued by the Social Welfare office in Tallaght was posted on Twitter by 4FM radio presenter Mike Hogan.

A department spokesperson said: "The initiative is one of a small number of pilot initiatives... examining the effectiveness and rationale of 'signing' in the context of the introduction of the Intreo Model of service."

This refers to the new Intreo offices which are one-stop services, providing training and job placement assistance to the unemployed.

The department said there was always latitude for signing on where a claimant faced exceptional circumstances.

However, the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed has condemned the fresh approach as "draconian".

Spokeswoman Brid O'Brien said the letter was unsigned and generic, and did not give jobseekers any comeback if they could not make the appointment, while issuing repeated warnings about there being "no exceptions" to the requirement to attend.

"What if a person faces a transport delay or they have a job interview or a hospital appointment they've been waiting two years for?" she said.

"There appears to be no appeal, and if people's payments are delayed until the following Thursday, that could put people in a very difficult situation."

The letter's tone seemed to run contrary to the approach of more engagement and working with people to help them back into the workforce, she added.

Irish Independent

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