Anonymous tip-offs regarding suspected cases of social welfare fraud have increased by more than 60 per cent, according to the latest figures released by the Department of Social Protection.
The Department of Social Protection has received 11,689 such reports from members of the public from January to June 2016, compared with 7,092 in the same period last year. The majority were made through the department’s website.
Most of the claims (3,078) were linked to the jobseeker’s allowance while 2,012 reports were linked to the one-parent family payment. A further 1,317 were linked to people wrongly claiming social welfare assistance, while 1,438 reports were linked to illness benefit. A dedicated phone line and website facility is provided by the department for individuals to submit anonymous reports of suspected abuses by social welfare claimants.
The figures show that 8,476 of the tip-offs were sent to the relevant departmental section for examination as clients were found to be in receipt of more than one payment. It was not possible to pursue a report in 3,213 cases due to a lack of information, the absence of any welfare claim or the fact that information supplied would not impact on any entitlement.
A breakdown of the figures show that 5,000 people contacted the department alleging a person was working and claiming a welfare payment at the same time. That is a 73 per cent increase on the first six months of 2015, when 2,895 tip-offs were made.
Reported for cohabitation
A further 2,437 were reported for cohabitation, where a person is alleged to be claiming the one-parent family allowance while living with their partner. That was up 51 per cent on the same period in 2015. The figures for 2016 show that 292 people were alleged to be claiming benefits while living outside the State.
There has been a substantial increase in the number of welfare tip-offs since the economic crisis. In 2008, for example, just 1,044 anonymous reports were made by the public to the department. However, the number of tip-offs increased to 16,917 in 2011, 28,022 in 2012 and 24,720 in 2013. In 2014, 21,088 cases of suspected welfare fraud were reported to the department’s control division.
The report, which has been seen by Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, records a €252 million saving by the end of June. Savings of €40 million arose from special investigations by the department.
“The department’s compliance and anti-fraud strategy 2014-2018 provides for a range of measures,” Mr Varadkar said, “to ensure that social welfare fraud and abuse is minimised and that control activity is appropriately focused. “The emphasis continues to be on preventing fraud and error from entering the system, improving detections and minimising error.
“In recent years, a number of legislative provisions have been introduced to strengthen the department’s capacity to recover debt. A new debt-management system was also introduced at the end of 2014.”
Mr Varadkar added that the department’s policy was to pursue prosecutions in cases of fraud, where appropriate. “Fraud prevention, detection and control systems are subject to continuing development to take account of new areas of fraud and technological advances.”