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Overpaid in social welfare payments? The government will seek you out

Guides have been launched to help people understand their rights when the department comes knocking for their money back.

Image: Shutterstock/Robert Kneschke

IF THE DEPARTMENT of Social Protection make a mistake and overpay social welfare payments to a person, it can seek to recoup the monies immediately.

The Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) said claims made by the Department of Social Protection for return of the money can cause a huge amount of stress and worry for people.

FLAC and Community Law and Mediation have launched two guides aimed at helping people to understand their rights when a claim is made about overpaid money.

Incorrect payments

The two groups stress that the state must be able to recover money which has been unlawfully or incorrectly paid out.

However, they are concerned that people – many of whom are on low incomes or are reliant on social welfare – are being hit with sizeable claims that could leave them at risk of deprivation or even destitution.

Where they claim an overpayment, the Department of Social Protection can deduct up to 15% of a person’s net weekly earnings without their consent and, if the person involved consents, they can deduct more.

Overpayments 

Last year the Department of Social Protection reviewed about one million social welfare claims, recovering €83 million in overpayments.

These overpayments are from either social welfare fraud or by errors made by the department.

Overpayments of social welfare has been an ongoing issue for many years for the government.

More than €90 million was overpaid in social welfare payments in 2011 – almost €40 million more than in 2007.

The overpayments were:

  • 2007: €50.52 million, with the highest overpayment of €10.40 million in Jobseekers’ Allowance
  • 2008: €55.58 million with the highest overpayment of €8.91 million in Jobseekers’ Allowance
  • 2009: €66.81 million with the highest overpayment of €11.70 million in State Pension non-contributory
  • 2010: €83.42 million, with the highest overpayment of €12.09 million in State pension non-contributory, with Jobseeker’s Allowance a close second at €12.01 million
  • 2011: €92.35 million, with the highest overpayment of €16.61 million in Jobseekers’ Allowance

Give the cash back 

When the error is detected the department is within its rights to look for all the money to be repaid, regardless of whose mistake it was in the first instance.

Jane O’Sullivan, Acting Managing Solicitor with Community Law and Mediation said:

Some of the claims for overpayment go back years. Some of them arise from mistakes made by the Department or by the claimant.While some people may understand immediately while the claim is being made against them, many more are distraught when an unexpected bill comes in with immediate demands for repayment.

For more information on the guide visit the FLAC website here

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