Overpaid welfare set to be deducted from dole

Welfare claimants who have been overpaid by or who have defrauded the Department of Social Protection will have up to €28 a week automatically deducted from their dole payments under new budget rules being passed this week.

About €92m was overpaid to claimants last year, 40% or nearly €37m of which is estimated to have been claimed fraudulently, says the department.

The rules being applied by Joan Burton’s department will see those repaying the department banned from claiming emergency payments.

The changes, under the Social Protection Bill — to be voted on by TDs this week — are part of overall budgetary plans to save an extra €60m through fraud control and overpayment measures.

Section 13 of the bill — published yesterday — makes changes to the recovery of social welfare overpayments by way of weekly deductions from a person’s social welfare entitlements. It adds: “Section 13 allows for a deduction of an amount of up to 15% of a liable person’s relevant personal weekly rate of social welfare payment for the purpose of recovering an overpayment.” This would amount to €28 being deducted from the average adult’s jobseekers’ allowance claim of €188.

The bill also stipulates that a dole claimant cannot “compensate for any overpayment deduction” by then going on to claim a supplementary welfare allowance, which is an emergency type of fund used for rent or bills for people with little income or where they are awaiting the payment of a claim.

The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed said it had concerns the deductions would be too much for some. Its head of policy, Bríd O’Brien said: “Overpayments can result from miscommunication, misunderstanding or errors on both sides of the counter as well as from fraud. It happens on a fairly regular basis to a variety of people. If that [the claim] is the only means you have coming in, it [the 15% deduction] could be quite a hit, especially if you’re also facing one from child benefit.”

The crackdown on welfare overpayments comes as a report today from the ESRI highlights the important role played by welfare payments and other social support funds in lifting jobless households out of financial poverty.

The report found the percentage in jobless households increased very rapidly after the start of the recession, from 15% in 2007 to 22% in 2010 — a period spanning economic growth and deep recession.

The percentage in Ireland is now double the average across Europe.

The research institute’s report reveals that the risk of living in a jobless household is higher for people with low levels of education, in lone-parent households and in households where an adult has a disability. Over one third of those in jobless households were children and nearly a fifth were adults with a disability, it found.

The research was based on statistics examined between the years 2004 and 2010.

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