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€96m could have been overspent in dole payments

Also, 62 cases of people “claiming multiple identities” cost taxpayers a LOT of money.

Image: Michael Probst/PA Images

PUBLIC SERVICE CARDS have helped the Department of  Social Protection identify 62 cases of “serious identity fraud”.

Niamh O’Donoghue, Secretary General of the Social Protection Department, told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that dozens of cases where people were “claiming multiple identities” have been found.

O’Donoghue said overpayments of over €1 million have been assessed, while claims worth a further €1.5 million have been stopped.

niamh pac Source: Oireachtas.ie

O’Donoghue said 1.4 million cards have been issued since 2012, with this figure expected to reach 3 million by the end of 2016.

She stated the cases relating to serious fraud were identified due to the facial recognition software associated with the cards.

O’Donoghue said that while the overall saving that will be made in terms of the cards reducing fraud can’t be quantified, it will be “in the millions”.

social welfare Source: Department of Social Protection

When figures are extrapolated from a fraud and error survey conducted by the department, it indicates annual overpayments of about €96 million in relation to jobseeker’s allowance, about €18 million on rent supplement payments and €9 million regarding the widow’s contributory pension.

The figures were given when PAC chair John McGuinness pushed O’Donoghue on the issue. She said the department generally doesn’t extrapolate based on the survey findings as they are “a snapshot in a moment in time” and not “exact”.

john mcg pac John McGuinness Source: Oireachtas.ie

In terms of the farm assist programme, there were 377 overpayments identified in 2013 – with five particular cases equating to overpayments to tune of €600,000.

Tip-offs

O’Donoghoe said the department received about 23,000 tip-offs from the public in relation to suspected social welfare fraud, down from just under 25,000 in 2013 and a peak of 28,000 in 2012.

She said that about 20% of the tip-offs resulted in the department identifying fraud and saving money as a result, although she described this figure as “a real guesstimate”.

“Any information we receive is investigated, it’s followed up,” O’Donoghue said.

derek pac Source: Oireachtas.ie

When Labour TD Derek Nolan questioned the fact that just 62 cases of fraud have been identified via 1.4 million public service cards, while tip-offs had yielded thousands, O’Donoghue said the 62 cases were of a particularly serious nature that were worth a lot of money.

“If there’s one thing that people hate, it’s abuse of the social welfare system … It breaks the social contract, the deal that’s out there that if you can’t get by we’ll help you out and that if you’re making your own way you’ll pay your own way,” Nolan said.

O’Donoghue noted that in recent years, customer and departmental error in terms of overpayment have decreased, while fraud cases have increases.

She said the department’s Special Investigation Unit hopes to make savings of €75 million in 2015, up from about €70 million last year. 20 gardaí were seconded to the unit last December to help increase the money recouped.

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