HUNDREDS of social welfare inspectors are set to take to the streets in a bid to clamp down on wholesale fraud.
Social Affairs Minister Joan Burton yesterday announced a major clampdown on welfare fraud which aims to recover €625m next year.
Two hundred inspectors will now be redeployed from administrative duties to check up on and quiz potentially fraudulent claimants.
Visits to homes and workplaces will form part of the crackdown.
The measures -- which are set to be rolled out next month -- will also see the introduction of a new €24m picture and signature ID card which will target the use of multiple identities.
The Minister announced that there will be harsher penalties for people working in the black economy, as well as employers who take on staff without paying the necessary PRSI.
She said she was acting in the face of urgent demands from the EU and the IMF to cut the welfare budget and that her department has discovered that fraud has reached up to 10pc in certain areas.
"Social welfare fraud is often perceived as a victimless crime. But I am conscious that it undermines public confidence in the entire system, as well as being unfair to other recipients of social welfare payments and taxpayers and legitimate businesses," she said.
"The Department of Social Protection processes in excess of two million applications each year and it makes payments to over 1.4 million people every week. I want to emphasise that the vast majority of people are receiving the entitlement due to them.
"There is no such thing as an acceptable level of fraud. Any euro of fraud taken out of this department is at the cost of somebody like an old age pensioner and that is not acceptable."
With Ireland's overall fraud level being at 1-3 pc per population, it is estimated that there are around 30,000 people making fraudulent claims at present.
The Minister announced that there will be a greater number of inspectors visiting people at their homes and workplaces without giving notice in a bid to clamp down on fraud.
"We have upped the targets for home visits, interviews and contacts with individuals significantly," she said.
"But we also want next year and this year, and we're doing it already, to significantly increase the number of employers whom we visit -- and ensure that everybody in employment is properly recorded for PRSI purposes," she added.
And central to the measures is a detailed fraud control plan which will place greater emphasis on inter-agency co-operation at both national and local level.
This will involve the sharing of the data by the likes of An Garda Siochana, the PSNI and the Revenue Commission.