An applicant for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis received several thousand euro despite not having worked in the previous 15 years.
The claimant, who listed their last day worked as March 6, 2020, and received just under €3,000 despite official data showing no record of employment since 2005, is one of several false claimants detailed in an internal Department of Social Protection report.
The internal audit probe, which was finalised in December 2020, sought to evaluate and tighten the control mechanisms in place to minimise fraudulent use of the marquee Covid payment.
It focused on a random sample of 100 claims made in the early months of the pandemic, and found a fifth of them did not satisfy qualifying criteria for the full timespan for which they were in receipt of PUP.
At the time of the report’s writing, three of the claimants were still in receipt of the €350 weekly payment.
A second false claimant initially applied for the payment stating their last day worked was February 14, 2020. When that paper application was refused, they reapplied online and said their last day worked was March 12.
Despite Revenue having no record of their having worked at all in 2020, they eventually received just under €6,000 in payments up to August 2020. The claimant was still in receipt of the payment at the time of the audit.
A third recipient stated they were leaving work voluntarily as they resided with vulnerable people, which was not a qualifying requirement for the payment.
That applicant eventually received €7,700 in an overpayment up to the end of August 2020. It is unclear if that money was refunded.
Several of the applicants were found to have given their reason for application as their having been in close contact with a case of Covid-19, resulting in a series of overpayments. Others were inadvertently paid both the PUP and wages from their own jobs, with that money eventually being refunded, while certain recipients of jobseekers benefit ended up receiving both that benefit and the PUP at the same time.
Nine of the wrongful claims were stopped by the recipients themselves rather than by the Department of Social Protection.
Over €9bn has been paid out via the PUP to date, with 75,000 people still in receipt of the payment as of this week.
In his review of the PUP last September, the Comptroller Seamus McCarthy, the State’s accountant, found a lack of ongoing checks had led to thousands of people being able to claim the payment without proving they had lost income.
Some 10,637 payments were stopped by Social Protection up to August 2020, with more than a fifth of those due to the recipients giving an address outside of Ireland on their application.
The Social Protection audit rated the issues over control of the payment as being of ‘high’ concern, in other words an “important matter that has a financial or reputational risk for the department”.
It recommended that “control review activity should continue, using the various means in place”, and should focus on the earliest claims lodged, but noted further that the controls in place at the time of the report’s writing were greatly improved over what had been in place at the PUP’s commencement.