Amnesty for overpaid social welfare claims ‘could net €55m’

A Sinn Féin TD has admitted he knows of welfare claimants cheating the system but said there must be an amnesty for overpayments — a move that could save the State €55m per year.

Amnesty for overpaid social welfare claims ‘could net €55m’

Sinn Féin social protection spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh said dole claimants had told him they were being overpaid but were afraid to correct the mispayments in case sanctions are applied.

His party estimates up to 10,000 welfare claimants could come forward and admit they are getting overpaid by the State if an amnesty is introduced. Correcting their payments could save €55m a year, Mr O’Snodaigh said.

“People come forward [to me] regularly. And they are afraid because it can build up quite quickly,” he said.

“If you’re in receipt of €10 or €15 [more than] what you’re entitled to over a year, that’s a substantial amount of money for people who have absolutely no savings who are dependent on the minimum payment.

“And for that to be deducted then out of their future payments, that makes it a lot more difficult for those people to survive. So they take a chance that they won’t be caught or that the department won’t discover that.”

Asked what he told these claimants, Mr O’Snodaigh said: “In most cases we try to find out is there a mechanism and so far, there isn’t a mechanism to come clean. In most cases, people just want to stay quiet because they can’t afford to pay the arrears, the overpayments, back.”

Mr Ó Snodaigh wants Social Protection Minister Joan Burton to introduce the social welfare amnesty in October’s budget and for it to be applied from January.

The proposal will be included in Sinn Féin’s alternative budget, to be published ahead of budget day.

The proposal could save Ms Burton’s department almost an eighth of her required €440m savings for next year. However, it is unlikely to be accepted by the Coalition.

Ms Burton’s department last night said she did not believe such an amnesty was the correct approach to take for overpaid welfare claimants.

It said: “Amnesty proposals have been tried previously and have proven to be ineffective.”

Savings last year through fraud and abuse prevention measures had amounted to €669m, department officials said.

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