The Department of Social Protection expects to have saved close to €500m through fraud control measures last year, while almost 600 people are before the courts on charges related to suspected welfare fraud.
The department also said that it is now using facial image-matching software in a further effort to crack down on duplicate registrations and identity fraud.
According to figures issued by the department, control savings of approximately €421m had been achieved by the end of November, although full year-end figures will not be available until later this month.
A spokesperson said the control savings amounted to money that would have been paid out, rather than money recouped in cases where fraud is detected.
“Control savings do not include any cases of departmental or clerical error or any cases where the customer voluntarily told the department of their altered means or circumstances, which resulted in a change to their rate of payment,” said the spokesperson.
The department was not able to provide an estimate as to the amount it overpaid last year in social welfare payments. In 2014 total overpayments equated to €124.4m, just over €52m of which was classified as fraud or suspected fraud, with a total of €86m recovered. The corresponding figures for last year cannot be released until after they have been reviewed by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
According to the department, 593 cases involving allegations of welfare fraud were in the courts system at the end of November last.
Cases are typically heard by the district court and the maximum penalty for cases taken summarily is a fine of €2,500, six months in prison, or both.
It has also emerged that the department’s office, which receives tip-offs regarding suspected welfare fraud, received 16,456 notifications from members of the public last year.
That figure was revised upwards from an initial figure of 15,721 reports provided to the Irish Examiner
earlier this month.
The department said new measures are also being used to control fraud.
A department spokesperson said officers were using predictive analytical techniques to identify claims that are more likely to be fraudulent, a new debt management system, and the services of 20 gardaí who have been seconded to the department’s Special Investigation Unit.
According to the spokesperson: “To further streng-then the PSC registration process, the department has acquired facial image matching software to help detect and deter duplicate registrations and identify fraud.”
The Public Services Card (PSC) rollout is continuing and is designed to replace other cards used by the department.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved