People using make-up and fake beards to claim welfare illegally, says Varadkar

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has said people have used make-up and fake beards in order to claim welfare illegally, writes Daniel McConnell.

Mr Varadkar today called on people to report on others they suspect to be cheating the system, as part of a campaign launched by his department.

He said some categories of benefits are more likely to see abuse.

Speaking at the launch, Minister Varadkar said: “The vast majority of people receiving payments from the Department of Social Protection are fully entitled to those payments and are compliant with the conditions.

“However, we take fraud very seriously and have a responsibility to taxpayers to ensure that people receive what they are entitled to. Nothing upsets people more than someone else cheating the system at their expense.

“That’s why we are launching a new campaign to encourage members of the public to report suspected or known cases of welfare fraud.

“Members of the public play a vital role as whistleblowers. Last year some 20,800 allegations of alleged social welfare fraud were dealt with by the Department.

“These are investigated and where warranted, payments are reduced or stopped and, in some cases, claimants are prosecuted. Overall, a range of anti-fraud and control measures in the Department of Social Protection saved taxpayers over €500m last year.”

Mr Varadkar also said that the pending change of leader in Fine Gael will not lead to a snap election here in Ireland.

He was speaking after British Prime Minister Theresa May announced an unexpected election in the UK for June 8.

“It will impact on the efforts to put together an administration in Northern Ireland and it is important the parties in the north redouble their efforts,” he told reporters in Dublin.

“It is a matter for the British government and the British people to decide the outcome of their election. But it doesn't change anything here from our point of view

“Our Brexit priorities remain the same.”

Mr Varadkar refused to be drawn as to whether the announcement by Mrs May could see Taoiseach Enda Kenny remain on in power longer than expected.

“That is entirely a matter for the Taoiseach,” he said.

Mr Varadkar also said he would be happy to debate his main opponent Simon Coveney in a televised debate once the race begins.

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