Over 500 suspected welfare fraud cases investigated last year

Over 500 suspected welfare fraud cases investigated last year

More than 500 cases of suspected welfare fraud and other offences were investigated and considered for prosecution by the Department of Social Protection last year.

The department’s anti-fraud and compliance report for 2019 also shows that social welfare inspectors and investigators carried out more than 609,000 reviews of claims, which yielded savings of over €505m.

The child benefit scheme was the subject of the highest number of reviews (241,000) but the greatest savings were secured following reviews of the jobseekers allowance scheme (€151m).

The department processes over 1m social welfare applications and issues payments to more than 2m people every year.

Last year it found that more than €116m was overpaid in over 77,000 benefit and assistance claims, with the average overpayment standing at €1,500.

Less than a third of overpayments involved suspected fraud, while 40% related to a ‘customer error’. Errors made by the department or officials accounted for 15% of all overpayments.

More than €82m in overpayments from social welfare recipients was recovered by the department’s debt recovery staff last year.

A special investigations unit, which has 21 gardaí seconded to it, also secured savings of €72m through its activities.

The unit stopped or reduced social welfare payments in more than 3,500 cases, detected overpayments in over 1,000 cases, and also dealt with 23 cases of suspected identity fraud last year.

Meanwhile, a new dedicated investigations unit set up to tackle bogus self-employment initiated 45 investigations since it began operating in August last year.

The employment status investigations included employer inspections across a variety of sectors as well as two projects in the construction and English language training sectors.

Departmental investigations led to 505 cases of suspected fraud and other offences being considered for prosecution — 419 under social welfare legislation and 86 cases under criminal justice legislation.

By the end of 2019, 492 cases were at various stages of the prosecution process in the courts.

Last year, the courts heard 98 criminal cases brought by the department for offences under social welfare legislation.

Of those cases, two resulted in prison sentences, six led to suspended sentences, 47 involved fines ranging from €100 to €9,000, and the Probation Act was applied in 26 cases where monies had been repaid in full.

In one investigation a man, who claimed disability allowance for 16 years, was found to be living outside of the country for nine years and had been overpaid by €125,695.

On his return to Ireland, the man in question came to the attention of gardaí for importing drugs by post and was subsequently prosecuted for both welfare and drugs offences.

Before the courts, he received an 18-month prison sentence but has since appealed the department’s decision on the overpayment.

In another case, a man was prosecuted for failing to inform the department that he had “substantial capital”, while he was claiming job seekers allowance.

The department found that he had been overpaid by €95,780. He was given a 12-month suspended sentence before the courts and is repaying the monies owed.

The 2019 report also shows that members of the public made 14,263 reports of suspected fraud to the department last year, with most relating to individuals thought to be claiming social welfare while working at the same time.

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