The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU), which probes suspected social welfare fraud, made ‘control savings’ of €72m last year.
According to department briefing documents for Minister Heather Humphreys, 3,536 case investigations last year by the SIU resulted in social welfare payments being stopped or reduced as a result of fraud, along with 1,014 cases where overpayments were detected.
The SIU is made up of 114 officers, including 20 Gardaí on secondment, and the department finalised 98 criminal cases in the courts during last year. The cumulative fraudulent overpayments associated with those prosecuted totalled €1.8m.
The department state that of those convicted, prison terms were imposed in two cases and suspended jail terms imposed in six cases.
Fines were imposed in 47 cases varying from €100 to €9,000 while the Probation Act was imposed in 26 cases where over-payments were repaid in full. The documents show that a further 86 cases were sent to the Gardai for further investigation before being referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration to prosecute.
Out of 419 cases considered for prosecution by the department, it referred 114 criminal cases to the Chief State Solicitor’s Office last year and at the end of December last, a total of 492 Social Welfare cases were in the courts system.
Last year, the department achieved ‘control savings’ of €505m resulting from some 609,000 individual reviews or investigations of entitlements across all scheme areas.
The documentation states that the department has a provisional target of achieving €520m in control savings in 2020 and also reveals that at the end of last year, the department’s cumulative social welfare overpayments totalled €459m in respect of 148,900 cases and relating to 124,700 people.
The statistics show that in 47,647, or 32%, of cases where money is owed to the department, €226.4m of the €459m was being repaid. However, in another 77,785 cases, the €168.5m was not being repaid.
In the remaining 23,437 of cases concerning €64m owed to the department, the current debt status of the cases fall under the heading of ‘suspended’.