The Department of Social Protection has identified just one suspected case of identity fraud this year, it has emerged.
The department said in response to a parliamentary question that 134 suspected cases had been identified between 2014 and April this year, with 21 successful prosecutions so far, and 18 people receiving custodial sentences.
The Sinn Féin TD Denise Mitchell said this year's single case showed that there had been no need for Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar to launch an advertising campaign last month to encourage the reporting of social-welfare fraud. The campaign, which uses the slogan Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All, has cost €200,845.
“It is extraordinary that the Social Protection Minister could take to the national airwaves and start waffling about people wearing false beards and make-up to fraudulently claim welfare payments when the department has no records to back up these assertions,” she said.
“Leo Varadkar attempted to whip up a frenzy, claiming that people in disguises were defrauding the State. But the figures revealed today show that more focus should be spent on tackling overpayments in the system, which is where the real loss to the taxpayer occurs.”
The Social Welfare and Pensions Bill that the Minister published this month also includes provisions to publish the names and addresses of people who have been convicted of welfare fraud, as well as the penalties they incurred.