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Joan slams social welfare fraudsters for 'giving two fingers to their neighbours'

Tens of millions of euro are overpaid each year.

We don't think this is what she meant.
We don't think this is what she meant.
Image: Shutterstock

JOAN BURTON HAS sharply criticised people who knowingly commit social welfare fraud.

“To be perfectly honest, some people who had been involved in fraud were basically giving two fingers to their neighbours, who were going out to work and paying their PRSI, to the department and to Irish society as a whole.”

The Tánaiste stated that committing fraud “really undermines the basic social welfare contract”.

“People at work paying their PRSI don’t want to see money that otherwise, for instance, could go to our pensioners or go to people out of work or go to lone parents, being misused by people who have no entitlement to it.”

Burton admitted there have been “quite a number of cases in recent times” where this has occurred, but said her department is clamping down, citing the facial recognition system used by public service cards.

Last month it emerged the cards have helped uncover 62 cases of “serious identity fraud”. A number of cases are currently being prosecuted in the courts.

joan 24 june Source: Oireachtas.ie

Speaking in the Dáil today, Burton said the total amount of overpayments at her department in 2011 was approximately €92 million. Of this, almost €35 million was due to fraud, around €40 million due to customer error, approximately €6 million related to departmental error and €11 million was in respect of estate cases.

Estate cases arise where undisclosed assets of customers, usually pensioners, come to light after their deaths.

The total value of overpayments in 2012 was €97 million, broken down as follows: almost €41 million was due to fraud, €36 million due to customer error, €8 million due to departmental error and €12 million was in respect of overpayments from estate cases.

In 2013, total overpayments amounted to approximately €127 million. Of this, almost €62 million was due to fraud, over €43 million was due to customer error, approximately €7 million related to departmental error and €15 million was from estate cases.

Burton said figures for 2014 and 2015 to date aren’t available yet.

Getting the money back

Burton noted that she introduced legislation in 2012 that allows a deduction of up to 15% of the weekly personal rate payable to a customer who has made an error or committed fraud.

willie odea 24 june Willie O'Dea Source: Oireachtas.ie

“That means that if a person’s basic rate is €188, up to 15% of that can be deducted. This does not affect payments issuing to the rest of the household or payments like child benefit.

“We can recover up to 15%, giving a deduction of around €25 per week, depending on individual circumstances. Prior to the introduction of that legislation, the department could only recover €2 per week from claimants.”

Burton said the vast majority of people “get exactly what they are entitled to – no more and no less”.

When Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea asked how much of the overpayments have been recovered, the Tánaiste said she would forward the details to him, noting: “The situation has improved significantly.”

Read: €96m could have been overspent in dole payments

Read: Gardaí on hunt to find dole cheats

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Órla Ryan

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