Pursuit of dole cheats reinforced by arrest powers

Suspected dole cheats face on-the-spot arrest at airports and early morning roadside garda checkpoints after the Department of Social Protection announced plans to enlist around 20 gardaí to help in its Special Investigations Unit.

Pursuit of dole cheats reinforced by arrest powers

The crackdown follows the release of data by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton yesterday that showed 100 social welfare tourists have been caught at airports since June 2012, saving €1.32m. A further 43 similar investigations are ongoing.

“Up until now, the SIU could question suspected dole cheats but with the addition of the gardaí they will, for example, be able to stop vehicles and arrest those where criminal offences such as identity fraud have been committed,” a spokesperson said.

Ms Burton said the gardaí were being seconded to her department to support the crackdown as part of her plan to cut the cost of welfare fraud by €710m.

“We will be taking on a number of gardaí directly in the Department of Social Welfare for a period of time to concentrate on areas like airports — people who may still be coming in and out in relation to still claiming benefits,” said Ms Burton.

“We will also be looking at areas like checkpoints in [industrial] estates and on roads early in the morning as people who are otherwise claiming benefits are actually in fact going off to work.”

Up until June, the SIU launched 24 multi-agency vehicle checkpoints, in which 37 dole cheats were caught saving €250,000.

At a checkpoint targeting HGV drivers in the Mid-West, three drivers were caught working and signing on. One had been on invalidity pension since 2009 and was getting paid for spouse and children at €420 weekly, while another was on jobseekers benefit while driving for a haulage company in Co Meath. Their employers were also contacted by Revenue.

Welfare fraud investigators have delivered a number of recent successes at airports in the courts, including:

* In Monaghan Circuit Court in June, a Latvian man was convicted of flying into Ireland twice a month to collect two separate payments, even though he had not been living here for almost two years;

* In March, a man who claimed social welfare while living in Poland was fined €1,500 at Tralee District Court. All monies owed were paid back;

* In Fermoy District Court, a Zimbabwean was given a 10-month suspended sentence and required to leave the jurisdiction before paying back over €4,000;

* In April, an Irishwoman received a three-year suspended term after it was revealed she flew from London once a month for four years to claim €43,000 in jobseekers allowance.

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