Specially trained gardaí using facial recognition software detected over €4m worth of social welfare fraud in the first half of this year — including a large number of identity theft cases.
Tánaiste Joan Burton confirmed the situation during a Dáil committee meeting in which she also said that the amount of money spent on the State supports is likely to drop by €70m next year due in part to falling unemployment numbers.
Speaking at the latest meeting of the education and social protection committee, the Labour leader and Social Protection Minister said that, between January and July, a special team of gardaí had been tasked with finding social welfare fraud.
Ms Burton said that, in the first half of the year, the group found €4m worth of cases where people were wrongly claiming supports at the expense of others, including a number of cases of identity theft only uncovered after the use of facial recognition software to check perpetrators’ real identities.
The Tánaiste said such investigations are ensuring money is not misspent in a service that accounts for almost 40% of the Government’s total expenditure, which hit €19.378bn this year.
However, she said that, despite the extra funds being available due to the anti-fraud measures, she expects social protection’s budget to drop by €70m in 2016 .
Ms Burton said that since the depth of the economic crash, unemployment rates have fallen from 15.1% to 9.5% with long-term unemployment numbers reducing from a high of 9.5% to 5.5% today. She said in real terms, this has resulted in a near-€3bn saving for taxpayers in the lifetime of the Government due to a €1.71bn fall in work income support needs and a €1.45bn rise in social insurance income.
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