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Cowen: 'Strained finances' the cause of rise in social welfare fraud reporting

Figures have shown a huge rise in the number of anonymous tip-offs of suspected social welfare fraud in 2011.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE HUGE RISE in the number of reports of suspected social welfare fraud has been attributed to the “strained financial situation” the country currently finds itself in, Fianna Fáil’s social protection spokesperson has said.

Barry Cowen was responding to figures revealed by the Social Protection Minister Joan Burton earlier this month that showed there were 16,142 anonymous tip-offs of alleged social welfare fraud between January and November this year.

The Irish Times noted that this was a huge increase on just five years ago when there were 629 anonymous reports. In all but one year, that figure has risen rapidly with 6,429 anonymous tip-offs recorded in 2009 and almost double that, 12,648 reports, in 2010.

Cowen told TheJournal.ie today: “People are conscious of the strained financial situation we’re in and that of the state and the huge burden it bears for social protection payments. People, to be fair, are just anxious that funding be channeled to those in need and those entitled.

“It’s welcome that people are being vigilant and mindful of the strained finances of the state. You just hope that staff within the department are professional enough to know and to recognise the quality of claims made by the general public.

It can be very demoralising for someone who is entitled to benefit or claim to be accused in the wrong.

Burton said that around 12,300 of the reported cases were sent to the relevant department for further examination while in over 3,800 cases there was a “lack of information supplied, or no claim being in payment or the information reported would not impact on entitlement.”

Of the over 16,000 reports, over 10,000 of them were via email with nearly 5,000 came from phone calls.

“The communication systems have a big part to play – an email is easier or a phone call is an easier means by which a case can be reported,” Cowen noted.

The government believes cracking down on social welfare fraud is one way of achieving savings with Burton launching a welfare fraud control initiative earlier this year which aims to achieve control savings of €625 million next year.

The government is expected to exceed its target for control savings on social welfare claims in 2011 after €540 million was made in control savings by the end of October of this year.

Cowen added that department savings had been pretty consistent over recent years and noted that the €540 million target was set by the last government. He said that the Department faced a challenge to meet its target of €625 million in 2012.

The Department of Social Protection has an annual bill of over €20 billion with the government keen to trim that as part of overall cost-saving measures in line with targets set down by the EU-IMF bailout agreement.

According the leaked budget documents - obtained by TheJournal.ie in November – the government is committed to achieving further savings in social welfare spending in its budget for 2013.

Government expects to exceed social welfare savings target

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Hugh O'Connell

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