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'Welfare cheats cheat us all': New campaign wants public to blow the whistle on welfare fraud

It’s estimated that last year suspected fraud overpayments of Jobseeker’s Allowance cost €14 million.

shutterstock_400205491 Source: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

A NEW HARD-HITTING campaign is being launched to encourage members of the public to blow the whistle on welfare fraud.

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar is launching the campaign today.

The adverts are designed to confront people with the reality of welfare fraud and aim to persuade people to report any knowledge they have about specific cases to the Department of Social Protection.

It’s estimated that last year suspected fraud overpayments of Jobseeker’s Allowance cost €14 million.

Minister Varadkar said today:

The vast majority of people receiving payments from the Department of Social Protection are fully entitled to those payments and are compliant with the conditions. However, we take fraud very seriously and have a responsibility to taxpayers to ensure that people receive what they are entitled to. Nothing upsets people more than someone else cheating the system at their expense. That’s why we are launching a new campaign to encourage members of the public to report suspected or known cases of welfare fraud.

He said that last year some 20,800 allegations of alleged social welfare fraud were dealt with by the Department.

“These are investigated and where warranted, payments are reduced or stopped and, in some cases, claimants are prosecuted,” he said. “Overall, a range of anti-fraud and control measures in the Department of Social Protection saved taxpayers over €500 million last year.”

The majority of public reports in 2016 concerned Jobseekers Schemes, Supplementary Welfare Allowance and One Parent Family Payments.

The most common reports allege issues such as working while claiming, cohabiting with a partner who is making a financial contribution, or claiming while living abroad.

The Department estimates that approximately one in three reports results in a payment being reduced or stopped.

Last year, the Department’s Prosecution Service considered some 300 cases of which 194 were referred to the Chief State Solicitor’s Office for proceedings to issue. A further 160 cases were referred for prosecution to the DPP by the Department’s Special Investigations Unit.

Minister Varadkar said that the Department of Social Protection has the single biggest budget of any Government Department, spending €19 billion every year.

“Last year, 1.4 million people received a weekly social welfare payment. Even with a budget of this size, there are still many positive changes I would like to make but have been unable to do so due to budgetary constraints,” he said. “That’s why savings are so important. And that’s why the public has a vital role in ensuring that we only target resources at those who most need them.”

welfare 1 Source: Department of Social Protection

(Can’t see, click here)

The Department of Social Protection has rolled out new initiatives to tackle welfare fraud such as the introduction of a modern debt management system.

A special investigation unit, consisting of trained inspectors and Garda officers, also operate in the department, tasked to identify more serious breaches.

Varadkar said his department has also deployed identity and analytics software and other intelligence systems to reinforce its fraud prevention work.

welfare 3 New advert to be used in welfare fraud campaign. Source: Department of Social Protection

The new advertising campaign asks questions such as: ‘Would you report a welfare cheat?’

The adverts are designed to make people sit up and think about the issue, and take action if they do have information, said a department spokesperson.

The minister said members of the public play an important role in supporting anti-fraud activities, with concerned citizens making 19,000 reports in 2016.

Every year thousands of allegations of welfare fraud are made to the department. Some of these transpire to be genuine cases and result in payments being suspended.

The payments are recovered if the case is genuine and some cases also merit prosecution.

wefare 2 Source: Department of Social Protection

(Can’t see, click here)

Confidential reports can be made using:

  • A confidential facility on-line on the Department’s website www.welfare.ie/cheats where concerns can be reported
  • The dedicated telephone facility 01 673 45 45 staffed by trained personnel
  • Reports by letter are also welcomed and encouraged (Fraud Reports, Central Control Division, DSP, Shannon Lodge, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim).
  • Reports can also be made to any of the Department’s offices nationwide.

Overall, the department conducts around one million claim reviews annually.

Varadkar said the continued roll-out of the Public Services Card, which gives people access a range of public services, has considerably reduced the potential for identity fraud.

The minister said he wants to strengthen the legislative provisions to deter abuse of the social welfare system, including publishing the names of persons who are prosecuted for social welfare fraud

He also aims to apply interest on overpayments resulting from fraud.

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