Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar’s controversial “Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All” advertising campaign has inspired a similar operation – but against a different target.
A “Vulture Funds Cheat Us All” poster campaign by the Independents4Change group will continue for two weeks on 50 buses across Dublin.
The first posters went up on Friday on 10 buses from Clontarf bus depot. They feature a red, black and white graphic with the “Vulture Funds Cheat Us All” catchphrase and a notice: “If you have information of malpractice in Nama or Vulture Funds contact namaleaks.com.”
Posters will go on the remaining 40 buses from all seven Dublin Bus garages across the city for the next fortnight. The poster campaign cost €6,000 plus VAT, totalling €7,260.
Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said the idea was inspired by Mr Varadkar's campaign. "We've worked very hard for two years exposing malpractice and wrongdoing," he said.
The Wexford TD claimed the State had lost billions of euro because of malpractice.
The campaign by the Minister for Social Protection includes national and regional radio, print and outdoor advertising for two weeks, and six weeks of online/digital output, and cost €165,988 plus VAT, totalling €200,845.
Social welfare fraud
The welfare cheats campaign encourages reporting of social welfare fraud and the Minister said no additional costs arose either through staff resources, website development or for telephone reporting.
Mr Wallace said: “The Minister would make a lot more money going after fraud in big business rather than in welfare, but a potential future Taoiseach doesn’t seem to have the same stomach to go after big business.”
However, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil on Friday that since 2013, when facial recognition software was introduced, more than 150 suspected cases of identity fraud had been referred to his department’s special investigation unit or to An Garda Síochána. The cases were at various stages, with 21 completed and 18 people imprisoned for fraud, he said.
He added that 500 reports of suspected social welfare fraud had been received in the week after the campaign launch on April 18th, which was more than double reports received in the same week last year and an increase of 70 per cent on the number received in the first week of April this year.
Mr Varadkar said €110 million in overpayments was paid in 2016, of which €41 million was the value of “fraud overpayments” in 16,225 cases. This compared to €49 million of fraud in 2015 in 21,407 cases.
He said €82 million in overpayments was recovered last year.
The Minister also said “entitlement reviews and investigations” were made on the benefits of 950,000 recipients across all schemes, resulting in “control savings” of €506 million last year.
But Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea criticised the welfare cheats adverts as a “ludicrously childish” campaign.
“Is it a coincidence that there is a Fine Gael leadership campaign coming up?” he asked.
He said the control savings were “very artificial figures” with the department estimating “without any evidence” what the cost would be if they did not have the control measures in place. He said 90 per cent of overpayments were “genuine errors either by the social welfare recipient or by the department”.
Mr O’Dea was one of five TDs who asked parliamentary questions about social welfare fraud. Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth, Independents4Change TD Clare Daly, Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall and Sinn Féin TD Denise Mitchell also questioned the Minister.