MARY HANAFIN denied the Government had “turned a blind eye” to social welfare fraud over the past decade.
Fine Gael’s immigration and integration spokesman Denis Naughten accused the minister of presiding over a department which is seen as a “soft touch” for accessing fraudulent payments and easy access to PPS numbers.
“The scale of social welfare fraud revealed by Prime Time Investigates simply beggars belief.
“I was stunned to learn that PPS numbers can be traded on the black market. It’s no surprise that Ireland is now regarded as a soft touch for social welfare fraud, and one of the easiest countries in the EU for cheating the system,” he said.
However, speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, Ms Hanafin said her department was “particularly vigilant” concerning the allocation of PPS numbers.
“But it is just one area because combating fraud is a major priority for the department and this year we will save over €500 million alone by reviewing claims, by stopping people going into payment by properly investigating them at the time,” she said.
Mr Naughten said legislation providing for a photo ID on PPS cards brought in 11 years ago, and which would eliminate the buying and selling of PPS numbers on the black market, had still not been enacted.
“Back in 1998, the Department of Social Welfare brought in a piece of legislation to introduce an integrated public service card which would for the first time have a photograph on PPS cards.
“That’s 11 years ago. The card has still not been introduced by the Government,” he said.
The minister confirmed the public service card would be introduced in the coming year and said the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pointed out that only about 1% of social welfare fraud related to PPS numbers.
Mr Naughten called on the minister to recruit additional staff from the Department of Agriculture to help carry out welfare reviews.
“There are significant numbers of staff in the Department of Agriculture with the skill-set and knowledge to carry out social welfare reviews. There is currently one Department of Agriculture official for every 30 farmers in Ireland, but only one member of staff in Social & Family Affairs for every 350 claimants,” he said.
Ms Hanafin said some 350 additional staff had been taken into the department in the past year, with about 620 staff being involved in some way with detecting fraud and error.
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