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Fraud tip-offs to welfare office hit 2,000 every month

AN average of 2,000 people every month reported a suspected case of welfare fraud to the authorities last year, new figures show.

The news comes as the Social Protection department is preparing a new anti-fraud strategy and is also going ahead with plans to add 20 gardai to its fraud investigation team of 91 inspectors.

The recruitment of gardai, who will retain their policing powers, drew widespread criticism of Social Protection Minister Joan Burton when it was announced last October.

But she said the fight against welfare fraud is a priority to safeguard taxpayers' money and ensure fairness for all.

The secondment of gardai is a trial scheme and the closing date for applications is next Monday, March 24.

It is expected the gardai will be deployed in Dublin, Dundalk, Letterkenny, Monaghan, Longford, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Navan and Sligo.

The latest statistics from the Department of Social Protection show that it received almost 25,000 anonymous tip-offs about suspected welfare fraud in 2013. This is down from the high point of over 28,000 anonymous reports in 2012 but still up markedly on the 16,000-plus reports received in 2011.

Officials stress that an anonymous tip-off is only the start of an investigation process and nobody is cut off until a clear breach of the welfare rules is established.

"In some cases the reports involve people not breaking any rules – for example, somebody receiving a one-parent family allowance and working a set number of hours as permitted by the rules," one official said.

The Social Protection department does not want to publicise just how many anonymous tip-offs lead to the detection of welfare cheating.

But officials insist that the anonymous tip-offs are an important part of the battle against welfare fraud.

The department is currently updating its 2011-2013 anti-fraud strategy and a new plan is due for publication shortly.

Attention

Staff at the department's 'Special Investigations Unit' already work closely with the Revenue Commissioners and gardai.

Officials say they pay particular attention to schemes deemed most likely to be abused and also to sectors where casual work is most prevalent.

HNEWS@HERALD.IE


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