Figure for social welfare overpayments up 10%


PUBLIC ACCOUNTS:OVERPAYMENTS TO social welfare recipients increased by over 10 per cent in 2011, the Department of Social Protection has confirmed.

Secretary general of the department Niamh O’Donoghue told an Oireachtas committee yesterday that provisional figures for overpayment for 2011 came to €92.4 million.

This compared to €83.4 million in 2010 and €66.8 million in 2009.

While no breakdown is available for 2011, Ms O’Donoghue disclosed that about a third of the payments were obtained fraudulently.

Ms O’Donoghue told the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, that the increase in identifying overpayments could be attributed to a sharp rise in the numbers claiming welfare and better outcomes from investigations.

She was responding to the findings pertaining to her department contained in the annual report for 2010 of the Comptroller and Auditor General Séamus McCarthy. She said the average amount of overpayment was just over €1,500, although three-quarters of cases deal with payments of €1,000 or less.

She added there was a small number of fraud cases involving six-figure sums and the largest sum involved was over €200,000 claimed by an individual using different aliases in various parts of the country. The person was prosecuted within the last year.

Derek Nolan of Labour asked about the recovery rate and was told it was €34 million in 2010 and €50 million in 2011. Ms O’Donoghue said that in 75 per cent of overpayment cases people had moved to settle the overpayments due. However, she said it was not possible in another 25 per cent of cases because people were either not co-operating or unable to co-operate due to their circumstances.

Earlier, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald had queried the department’s figure of €645 million in savings from successful fraud investigations as notional. She said it was based on a “what if” scenario rather than reality and that citizens would find it to be a “dubious claim”.

Ms O’Donoghue replied that it was based on multipliers, established in Ireland and abroad, that calculated how long a claim would have remained in payment if there had not been an intervention. Ms McDonald and Mr Nolan expressed dissatisfaction with the calculation method.

Several PAC members also expressed concern about delays in invalidity payments, and about the controversy surrounding the domiciliary care allowance.