The Department of Social Protection has said almost €100m in welfare overpayments were recorded last year, including €20.3 in suspected welfare fraud relating to 5,350 cases.
The DEASP also said it reviewed 72,000 Pandemic Unemployment Payments (PUP) last year, resulting in about 24,000 claims being stopped.
The amount of money the department said it detected in overpayments last year – €99.2m – is down from the €116m recorded in 2019, a reduction it attributed to the effects of the pandemic.
A DEASP spokesperson said: "The introduction of services to deal with the effects of the pandemic, such as the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, required the redeployment of department staff at various points during 2020.
"In addition, the various restrictions have resulted in how the department carries out its reviews. However, an analysis of provisional figures for the year shows that the department achieved between 75% and 80% of its annual targets for control reviews and control savings."
Some of those savings were attributed to suspected welfare fraud, with the €20.3m including 3,680 cases valued at €6.9m involved Jobseeker’s Benefit and Assistance claims.
The department also said it had received in excess of 20,000 individual reports of suspected fraud or wrong-doing from members of the public last year, 16,955 (84%) of which were received online via the department’s website and 2,572 (13%) by phone, with the balance received by post.
The department said it could not detail how many of those reports resulted in a detection of fraud, but the spokesperson said:
The department has been criticised in recent years in relation to its fraud control claims, and the most recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General showed that in 2019 there was a huge spike in welfare overpayments attributed to "official error" last year, led by a €12.2m overpayment related to the implementation of a new illness benefit IT system.
As for the 24,000 PUP claims stopped last year, the department said this resulted in savings of "circa €94m over the amount that would have been spent had these payments continued".
In December FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) made a submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands relating to the PUP scheme, including what it said was the department’s failure to address concerns about the actions of social welfare inspectors at airports.
As for ongoing anti-fraud initiatives, the DEASP said this would include "continuous and rolling sampling, assessment and reporting, a new media campaign to raise awareness of customer obligations, enhancements to data analytics capabilities and increased cooperation with other bodies, as well as the establishing of a new unit of social welfare inspectors.