Ombudsman: Pursuit of social welfare overpayments wasn't 'poverty-proofed'

Ombudsman: Pursuit of social welfare overpayments wasn't 'poverty-proofed'

Some people were put into "extremes of poverty" by the recovery of social-welfare overpayments, the Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has said following the publication of a new report today.

The Ombudsman analysed the recovery of social-welfare overpayments by the Department of Social Protection as a result of a big increase in the number of complaints his office was receiving.

In his new report, Fair Recovery, Mr Tyndall claims the department was not dealing with the recovery of overpayments in a fair and equitable manner in a significant number of cases.

Between 2015 and 2018, his office received 108 complaints from people who were unhappy over the pursuit of overpayments by the department. The Ombudsman upheld a 45% of these complaints.

In 2014, there were only two complaints, with one upheld, but this rose to 37 by 2016, with 18 upheld.

The number fell again in 2017 to 25 complaints (7 upheld), and 2018 (23 complaints with 6 upheld).

Speaking about the report, Mr Tydnall said some of the repayments were being reclaimed because of errors made by the department.

"Some of the older repayments were very many years old and sometimes evidence that the person owed the money was absent.

I was worried that some people were being put into extremes of poverty as a result.

Mr Tyndall said many people were being taken well below the poverty line as a result of the recovery of overpayments . In the report, he says the department did not "poverty-proof" peoples' circumstances before the deductions were made.

"While the department must be allowed to recover payments in appropriate cases, these must be dealt with in a fair and equitable manner," he said.

"That did not happen in a significant number of cases I have seen."

However, he said he was pleased the department has worked with him to resolve the individual complaints and improve its procedures.

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