Social welfare claimant had €400,000 in investments

Burton says issue was uncovered as part of anti-fraud control measures with Revenue

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton will publish her department’s new anti-fraud strategy today. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton will publish her department’s new anti-fraud strategy today. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Thu, Apr 24, 2014, 13:24

Welfare payments made to an individual who had in excess of €400,000 in investments were recovered by the Department of Social Protection as part of its fraud control measures, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said.

The issue was discovered in the course of a data sharing exercise with the Revenue Commissioners, which provided information on investment interest payments on sums in excess of six figures.

Ms Burton will today publish the Department of Social Protection’s new fraud prevention strategy.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland programme, Ms Burton said her department and the Revenue Commissioners now had a “very detailed capacity” to match data about people claiming benefits.

Spending was “always under fierce scrutiny and we have to make sure that the money goes to people who need the money and target it”, Ms Burton said.

“In this case (the investment €400,000), that person has no entitlement to jobseeker’s (welfare payments) – and is able to provide for themselves financially. So we’ve recovered the money,” she said.

“In this case the Revenue Commissioners would have identified people who had very high levels of interest earnings or other…basically interest on investment earnings.

“Where those earning are very high, indicating that they would have six figure-plus investments, we would then match those against our records to see if those people were in receipt of means tested payments.”

Ms Burton said about €10 million in total had been recovered from such investigations and there had been a further saving of about €23 million in payments that would otherwise have been made in such cases.

Her department’s overall spending last year was in excess of €20 billion.

A lot of money had been invested in IT systems in recent years, Ms Burton said. The ‘big analytics’ carried out by the Department allowed it to run checks on legitimate claims.

This could also include checking on, for example, 20 welfare payments being claimed by individuals with the same address at a four-bedroom house.

Asked if many people were still claiming welfare payments “on the double”, the Minister said:

“I would say that most people who receive a social welfare payment get what they are entitled to – no more and no less and that’s really important, particularly when you think about people like our pensioners who certainly have found recent years very difficult.”

She said the aim of the new anti-fraud initiative was to “remodel and fine-tune” the system to prevent fraud entering “right from the very beginning”.

The Department had also given extra powers to social welfare officers at airports.

“If they believe that there are people coming in simply for the purposes of welfare tourism. And we’ve dealt with 151 such cases since I brought in that legislation just two years ago now.”

In total, this number represents about 0.01 per cent of the number of people receiving welfare payments each week.

The Department’s annual report published recently said the “vast majority” of people on social welfare are claiming the correct entitlement due to them.

“However, a small minority is not and a range of measures are employed by the Department to ensure that social welfare fraud and abuse is minimised and that its control activity is appropriately focused.”