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Family Support Agency board member overclaimed €40k in expenses

“Obviously, in hindsight, it was wrong, there is no question about that,” Richard Hickey said.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/ldutko

THE STANDARDS IN Public Office Commission (Sipo) has found that a member of the board of the former Family Support Agency contravened ethics legislation.

Sipo found that Richard Hickey submitted duplicate claims for travelling and subsistence expenses from the Family Support Agency and St Brigid’s Family Resource Centre in Waterford for attendance at the same events over a five-year period.

The report follows an investigation hearing held on 30 January. The document states: “During the period 2008 to May 2013, the individual concerned claimed a total of €51,132 from the Family Support Agency.

“This examination identified that in relation to claims valued at €43,966 (86% of the total), the claimant apparently claimed expenses from the Centre in relation to the same periods and journeys.”

The Family Support Agency (FSA) became part of Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) in January 2014 and was a publicly funded body.

Sipo’s report notes that when the FSA became aware of an issue relating to Hickey’s travel and subsistence claims, it decided to carry out an examination.

In December 2013, the FSA held a meeting at which it was decided, based on legal advice, to refer the matter to An Garda Síochána. In March/April 2014, gardaí reported back that the matter would not be pursued by them because no formal complaint had been made to them about the matter.

In his evidence at the hearing in January, Hickey did not dispute that he had double-claimed expenses. He also said that each year there was about €3,000 in allocated expenses he did not claim.

He stated: “Once the budget had been approved, once the finances were there to do it and most of those finances had been created by my own work over the years in any event, I felt, I suppose, some justification in doing it.”

The report notes that in his evidence Hickey said he became aware in April or May 2013 that an audit was to be conducted in the centre by Family Resource Agency auditors and that the duplication of expenses would be discovered.

He said he contacted the centre’s auditor Barry Kennedy, and admitted the duplicate claiming of expenses, telling him he estimated the duplication to be between €40,000 and €50,000.

He calculated the amount due to the centre was around €25,000 after taking into account the extra hours worked by him over and above his contract hours and the €3,000 annual expenses he had not claimed.

‘In hindsight, it was wrong’

Hickey said in his evidence that on 13 August 2013 he met with Kennedy and the centre’s board members. It was proposed at that meeting that Hickey sign an agreement to pay €25,000 and retire, and the matter would be concluded.

The reimbursement agreement was drafted based on legal and professional advice and Hickey retired from the centre on 30 August 2013 and paid the agreed sum.

Hickey said he felt, having paid back the money and given the work he had put into the centre over 13 years, “I suppose that, if you like, the books should balance.”

When asked if he offered any apology, Hickey said that he was and is fully apologetic. He acknowledged under cross-examination that the double claiming shouldn’t have occurred.

He accepted the double claiming of expenses was done deliberately, saying:

I suppose you have to say yes it was done deliberately, I felt as I said to you, that I saw it as 50% of my salary being paid to me as salary, 50% of it being paid by expenses and the expense figure being allowed
to give me the freedom to do the kind of work I wanted to do and that is why that figure was there. Obviously, in hindsight, it was wrong, there is no question about that.

129 claims

A total of 129 claims were examined during Sipo’s investigation, of which 64 related to the agency and 65 were for the centre.

The report states that, in general, Hickey submitted a claim to the agency and a claim to the centre for each month in respect of his attendance at the same meetings and other events.

The document notes there was a requirement in the agency’s travel and subsistence claim form whereby claimants confirm expenses claimed in respect of a specified period had not, or would not, be claimed from another source.

Separately, it notes that there is a ‘yes/no’ question on the form, requiring the claimant to indicate if s/he has made or will be making “a claim for refund of airfare, travelling, etc expenses from another organisation”.

The report notes that of 64 claims made to the agency, 62 were signed by Hickey which certified that “no claim in respect of the same period has been or will be made against another government department or elsewhere”.

Sipo said a copy of the report and other relevant documentation, including claim forms, will be given to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, Tusla said:

Tusla can confirm that the Board of the Agency contacted the Standards in Public Office Commission in January 2015, in line with best practice.
Tusla is the State Agency responsible for improving wellbeing and outcomes for children. The Family Support Agency was dissolved in 2013 and its functions transferred to Tusla, following the establishment of the Agency on 1 January 2014. These functions and services are now governed by Tusla’s governance structure.
The Family Support Agency and its work predates Tusla. The person referred to in the report was never employed by, and is in no way associated with Tusla.

Comments are closed for legal reasons.

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Órla Ryan

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