There has been a 20% increase in the number of social welfare fraud reports registered with the Department of Social Protection.
In the first nine months of this year, there were just over 16,500 reports registered, up from 13,900 for the corresponding period in 2016.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said that, of the overall numbers received up to the end of September, close to 14,000 have been examined and following the initial stages of examination, almost 9,000 have been referred for “further investigation and appropriate follow-up action”.
“It is important to note that a payment is not suspended or stopped solely on the basis of a report received,” she said. “The report provides a “trigger” for the instigation of a review of a specific entitlement and further investigation if that is considered to be warranted.”
Ms Doherty was asked in a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin’s John Brady on how the Government’s social welfare fraud campaign ‘Welfare cheats cheat us all’ had impacted on the number of reports.
The campaign, launched by Leo Varadkar when he was still Social Protection Minister, promoted the department’s online and telephone fraud-reporting services and was designed “to encourage debate about social welfare fraud and challenge the perceptions of those who see it as a victimless crime”.
It wanted the public to report those who were working but continuing to claim payments, such as jobseeker’s benefit/allowance or an illness payment; people who had not given notice they were living in a family unit in order to get higher rates of payment; those claiming while living abroad; employers who were failing to maintain appropriate employment/wage records and non-compliance or non-remittance of PRSI; non-disclosure of means; anyone making a claim for more than one social welfare payment or assuming and falsely using the identity and PPSN of another person.
“It is important to note that the advertising campaign commenced in April this year and, therefore, statistics to date would not be indicative of the overall results of the campaign, nor do these statistics alone reflect the complete set of objectives set for the campaign,” said the Minister.
“The success will also be measured by behaviour and attitudinal changes to welfare fraud and public awareness of fraud reporting.”
At the time of the launch of Mr Varadkar’s fraud campaign, it was claimed €500m was saved through a range of anti-fraud and control measures in the department.
However, Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said the actual amount recouped relating to fraud was far lower at just €41m and that, after examining figures given to him from the department, it appeared the total amount of over-payments to welfare recipients was also much lower than the €500m figure quoted by the now Taoiseach.
It also emerged earlier this year that in the three years up to and including 2016, one in four reports of fraud by members of the public lacked enough information to warrant further investigation, or had no bearing on any entitlements received.
The department received 54,066 allegations of welfare fraud from the public. However, of those, 15,869 allegations contained “insufficient information to commence review of entitlement, or entitlement would not be affected by information received”.
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