News Irish News

Saturday 23 November 2019

Welfare fraudsters' dole slashed by €112 a month in bid to claw back €90m

Michael Brennan and Eoghan McConnell

SOCIAL welfare fraudsters will have their dole slashed by more than €100 a month in a new system to claw back around €90m in annual overpayments.

Previously, it was very difficult to recover money from those guilty of welfare fraud because they were entitled to keep almost all of their dole payments.

But Social Protection Minister Joan Burton is bringing in a new law to allow 15pc of their weekly social welfare payments to be taken off them directly by her department.

In the case of someone on a weekly jobseeker's benefit payment of €188, they would be docked by €28.20 per week or €112.80 per month until they had made a full repayment.

The new powers in the Social Welfare Bill are expected to increase the scope of the department to recover fraudulent and accidental overpayments.

Last year, it only recovered €50m of the €92.4m in overpayments.

Around €30m of the overpayments were due to fraud, with the rest due to errors by the department.

The average amount of overpayment is just over €1,500.

Under the new deductions' system, a person on jobseeker's allowance of €188 per week would repay a €1,500 overpayment within one year, with weekly deductions of €28.20

In the past, people were able to keep €186 out of their €188 payment for their "personal needs" and could not have any more deducted without their agreement.

They were also able to claim emergency social welfare payments to replace any money they were docked.

When the new Bill becomes law this will cease.

However, United Left Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it was an attempt to blame social welfare receipts for the economic crisis instead of bankers and speculators.

"Joan Burton's overpayment recovery proposal is an attempt to paint some of the unemployed as the 'undeserving poor' and ignores the mass poverty that currently exists in Ireland," he said.

The Social Welfare Bill also contains the controversial Budget cuts, including the €10 reduction in child benefit and the €325 cut in the respite care grant. It is due to be discussed in the Dail today with votes to be taken tomorrow and Thursday.

A Labour source said that no party TD had threatened to vote against it so far but they were "taking no vote for granted".

Labour is rejecting demands from rebel MEP Nessa Childers for the Programme for Government to be renegotiated.

And ministers continue to insist there will be no changes to any of the Budget cuts.

Communications Minster Pat Rabbitte said the Government had no choice but to complete the Budget process by putting the social welfare cuts into law.

" We are dependent to source funds to continue to run the State's social services from a single lender (the troika) who sets down conditions with which we must comply," he said.


Although Labour has been criticised for breaking its election promise not to cut child benefit, Mr Rabbitte denied that the party's credibility had been damaged.

"Anybody who understands the economic mess into which the country was plunged understands that there are no easy alternatives, difficult decisions have to be confronted," he said.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has tried to increase pressure on Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers by saying that his party would be forcing votes on every section of the Social Welfare Bill, including cuts to child benefit and the respite care grant.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News