Welfare sector overpaid €111m

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has said it is on target for savings for 2017, having identified €111m in overpayments, including €38.3m relating to 10,500 cases of suspected fraud.

Figures provided to the Irish Examiner show as of the end of November, the DEASP said it had achieved annual control savings of an estimated €496m, which equated to 97% of the full year target of €510m.

That figure does not include data relating to cross-border fraud, impersonation, or people living at one address — including overseas — but claiming with regard to another address. The Department said that data would be available soon.

The department launched a much-criticised campaign cracking down on welfare fraud last year, and the department said its Prosecution Service and Special Investigations Unit considered nearly 300 cases for prosecution during 2017, a similar number to the previous year.

As for the amount of money it has clawed back, it said provisional figures for last year indicated it had recovered €82m in overpayments — again similar to the figure for the previous year.

A spokesperson said: “Estimated overpayment of benefit and assistance amounted to €111m in 2017. Of this, €38.3m related to 10,500 cases where fraud was suspected and, of this, €19.6m related to 7,900 cases involving jobseekers benefit and assistance claims.”

As for outstanding monies it is owed, the department said: “Where recovery of an overpayment is concerned, the department has a statutory obligation to inform the person concerned of the overpayment and the methods available to recoup this sum.

“In determining the amount and frequency of recovery, the department must consider the circumstances of the person and any information provided by them before proceeding to recover outstanding sums.

“The person can seek to have the arrangements reviewed at any time. In the absence of engagement by a person concerned, the department can recover up to 15% of the personal rate from an ongoing payment. The department also has powers to recover funds in bank accounts.”

The department said its fraud tip-off line received 21,000 contacts last year, but could not provide detail as to how many led to detections.

A spokesperson said: “The analysis of these reports is on-going.”

One criticism levelled at the department in relation to how it puts together its figures is that control savings do not represent money recouped but are an estimate of the money that would have been lost if the overpayment had not been detected.

A spokesperson said: “The department’s control work is measured in terms of control savings and they are used as a performance indicator for activities. Control savings are an estimate of the value of the various control activities across the schemes and refer to future expenditure, that would have been incurred, but for this control work.”


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