Probe into irregular payments of €500k to child care group

Gardaí and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) are investigating irregular payments totalling €500,000 to a childcare group by the State, the Public Accounts Committee has been told.
Probe into irregular payments of €500k to child care group

Correspondence to the committee from Pobal, the Government’s communities agency, reveals that the matter was referred to the gardaí in February of this year and investigations are ongoing.

The documents, seen by the Irish Examiner, show that alarm was raised over payments to the West Clare Early Years Care and Education Services Ltd (WCEY) as far back as 2014.

The Department of Children received a letter from WCEY in regard to “suspected financial irregularities” in their company claims for payments for child care services.

“The suspected irregularities related to over claiming by the group, which was an umbrella group covering seven childcare centres,” the Pobal document states.

Pobal initiated an audit in February 2015 but encountered a “range of barriers including in regard to access and reliability of records which delayed its completion”.

Due to incomplete records, a lack of integrity over the records it was not possible to accurately quantify the extent of the overclaim.

The audit found that dual attendance records were kept and confirmed that the childcare organisation submitted “inaccurate returns in respect of children who may not have attended”.

Suspected irregular payments totalling €500,000 were reported to the gardaí and the ODCE on February 11, 2016.

WCEY took a decision to liquidate in February 2016, the documents state.

Pobal went on to inform the committee of various measures it has taken to ensure such over claims do not re-occur.

Meanwhile, the roll-out of the new Public Services Card has cost €60m to date, the Committee has been told.

The card is designed to assist people aged 18 and over in accessing a range of government services and to cut down on fraud.

It was introduced in 2012 for people claiming social welfare payments and State pensions.

The Comptroller and Auditor General is presenting his audit of the Department of Social Protection to the committee this morning.

C&AG Seamus McCarthy told the committee that the contract with the service provider had to be renegotiated following delays and the cost of the contract rose by 16% to €23m.

Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection Niamh O’Donohue said the card would be a key asset to deter of identity fraud.

The committee was told that 2.2m cards have been issued to date and it has estimated to have saved more than €2.5m

The C&AG also told the committee that excess payments in the Farm Assist Scheme are estimated to amount to 10.4% of the scheme’s total fund of €88m, while excess payments in the Household Benefit Schemes are estimated to amount 5.4% of the €75m fund.

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