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Backlash on welfare cheats sees number of informants soar

INFURIATED members of the public are outing social welfare cheats with a six-fold increase in reports to the authorities.

In the past 12 months over 6,400 people have informed on welfare cheats compared to only 1,000 the previous year.

Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin says her department now has 620 staff working to control fraud and abuse of the welfare system.

Last year the total saved from fraud investigations was €484m from a review of over 750,000 cases. This year the target is €533m.

A fraud and error survey is currently underway on Jobseeker's Allowance and the results of that should be available by the summer of this year.

The Minister told Deputy Liz McManus in response to a query that her department's goal was to carry out such surveys on each of the major social welfare schemes every two years.

Last year they had managed to review 20pc more cases than their target for the year and they saved €484m.

This year the aim is to recoup €100m in fraudulent payments to One Parent Families and €110m from fraudulent Illness Benefit claims.

"A target of €110m has been set for pensions, including additional savings on the non-contributory scheme." The Department also hopes to save over €82m in Child Benefit, €81m on jobseeker's payments and €16.5m on carers payments.

The Minister stressed that while the vast majority of people on welfare payments were correctly claiming within their entitlements, "I am determined to ensure that abuse of the social welfare system is prevented and is dealt with effectively when detected".

"To this end, the control programme of the Department is carefully monitored and the various measures are continuously refined to ensure that they remain effective."

She added that the targets for this year took account of the extra anti-fraud powers provided in the Social Welfare Bill.

A lot of fraud was caught at the claim application stage and savings achieved from this were not included in the published figures for control savings.

Minister Hanafin said overall the level of fraud on most welfare schemes was low but "the Department is conscious that in a small number of schemes some groups of claimants present a higher risk than others".