Welfare fraud crackdown nets €483m

A CRACKDOWN on fraudulent social welfare claims yielded almost half a billion euro in savings to the state last year, it has emerged.

The Department of Social Protection’s annual report shows it carried out 929,000 “control reviews” of schemes it was operating and these generated about €483 million in payments that should not have been made.

Of that total, €107.6m came from child benefit claims, €94.6m from illness schemes, €83.3m from state pension schemes and €71.5m from one-parent family payments.

During 2010, the department took 209 criminal and nine civil cases to the chief state solicitor’s office for the initiation of court proceedings. It also referred a further 132 cases of “personation” to gardaí.

As a result, 254 people were successfully prosecuted with eight imprisoned, 16 given suspended sentences and 165 fined.

Furthermore the department’s special investigation unit, in association with the Revenue Commissioners and National Employment Rights Authority, generated €50m in savings through 20,000 fraud investigations and 500 employer inspections.

Elsewhere its latest annual report shows the Department of Social Protection made over 85.3m social welfare payments totalling €21bn in 2010.

Payments to the elderly came to €4.6bn, or 22.1% of the total. Jobseekers’ supports accounted for 19.6% (€4.06bn), illness disability and caring allowances were 16.6% and child-related payments 12.7%.

Payments to widows, widowers and one-parent families accounted for 12.3%.

Expenditure on state pensions rose by 1% to just over €4.6bn and 394,000 people received payments.

Almost 600,000 families received child benefit payments in respect of 1.1m children. The total spend on child benefit was €2.2bn, down 11.3% on the previous year.

Even though the number of people receiving carers’ payments increased from 50,140 to 52,219, expenditure on carers’ allowance decreased by 0.1% and on carers’ benefit by 12.9%.

The report revealed that last year the department dealt with applications for Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSN) for customers from 140 countries. It fielded 6.5m telephone calls regarding its 50 separate schemes and services.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said: “Supports administered by my department provide for the complex and multi-faceted needs of people at every stage of life.

“In light of our country’s changed economic circumstances, the evolving needs of the department’s customers and the new areas of responsibility assigned to my department, which this year will include the Employment and Community Employment Services of FÁS and the Community Welfare Service, we will be focusing our interventions on assisting customers to find employment or to prepare themselves for entry into the labour market by accessing career advice, training, education, work experience and job placement.”

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