Reports of social welfare fraud on rise


OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE:MORE THAN 13,000 reports of suspected social welfare fraud have been received so far this year, a jump of 3,000 on the same period in 2011, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said.

Delivering a pre-budget briefing to an Oireachtas committee yesterday, Ms Burton suggested the rise in tip-offs on alleged cheating was motivated by a desire to protect pensioners’ entitlements.

Ms Burton gave details of special investigations being carried out with the support of the Revenue Commissioners, targeting individuals whose “displays of wealth” were not consistent with social welfare dependency.

She declined to answer directly when Fianna Fáil spokesman on social protection Willie O’Dea asked whether the Government pledge not to cut social welfare rates remained in place. She said achieving the required €540 million in spending cuts in Budget 2013 would be “difficult” and a “major challenge”. The scale of what was needed meant all services must be examined.

On reports of fraud, she said: “The number of reports made in the period from January to August 2012, this year, was 13,228 reports by concerned members of the public. That compares with 10,300 such reports for the same period last year.” She said some people wanted to ensure pensioners were not at a loss “because some people are scamming the system”.

Ms Burton highlighted concern over abuse of the free travel scheme through forged passes. About 1.19 million people have free travel passes.

Ms Burton said she was not aware of any fraud problems with pensioners, as everyone over 66 was entitled to the free travel pass. She said 99,000 people on disability allowance had the pass.

A key priority was to “balance the books” by starting to put the Social Insurance Fund on a sustainable footing. She added expenditure on pensions “on a no policy change basis” will increase by at least €200 million next year because of the ageing population.