6,000 tip-offs about welfare cheats

THE number of tip-offs to the Department of Social Protection about welfare cheats has doubled in the past year.

More than 6,000 calls have been made to the department’s hotline to the end of July. This compares with 3,300 calls for the same period last year. With further tip-offs made directly in public offices, the overall figures may be even higher.

The department also confirmed it is using a range of measures to crack down on fraud, including the use of social networking sites, such as Facebook, to help verify reports made by the public against cheats.

Other measures include:

nHaving inspectors call to the homes of welfare recipients.

* Sending people in receipt of illness payments for independent medical assessments.

* Paying new claimants for jobseekers’ allowances through post offices. This requires them to attend the post office each week, confirming their residency in the country. Photographic identification is also needed.

* Using frequent mail-shots to validate residency to identify people who have moved address or left the country.

* Introducing Public Service Cards, which will include a photograph and signature.

One of the expected advantages of this is it will help to reduce fraud and error which result from the incorrect identification of benefit claimants.

The Special Investigation Unit of the department is also working with other agencies, such as Revenue, the National Employment Rights Authority, Customs and the Gardaí, to ensure control activity is being targeted at high-risk categories of claimants/employers.

Facebook and other sites are being monitored to verify tip-offs. They are routinely used in Britain to crack down on those falsely claiming benefits.

“Social networking sites, such as Facebook, are not a systematic part of the department’s ongoing targeted fraud and error control activities. However, information may come to light, for example, through an anonymous report from the public, that a person is involved in suspect activities and refer officials to a site such as Facebook.

“If that does arise, the department investigates the allegation to ensure the information is accurate before the person’s payment is stopped or reduced and an overpayment is raised,” said a Revenue spokesperson.

The department has more than 600 staff involved in control work helping to detect welfare fraud.

More than 750,000 reviews of claims were made last year, with savings of €484 million achieved.

The department processes in excess of two million claims every year, making payments to over one million people every week.

People can report suspected welfare fraud by contacting the Department of Social Protection’s central control division at 071 9672648 or by visiting www.welfare.ie.


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