Department says sharing bank data could help stop fraud

Policy paper suggests linking health and education data on welfare recipients


Personal information held by banks and financial institutions should be available to State agencies for the purposes of means-testing entitlements and helping to prevent fraud, the Department of Social Protection (DSP) has said.

In a submission on the Government’s proposed data sharing and governance Bill, the department says fraud prevention units in financial institutions currently cannot share information with the department “even where they know that social welfare fraud is being perpetrated”.

Published by the Department of Public Expenditure in August, the policy paper sought submissions on possible legislation and describes the data-sharing initiative as a “central element in the public reform agenda”.

It notes a commitment in the programme for government to undertake anti-fraud measures using technology and better sharing of data across government departments and agencies.

Noting that the proposed data sharing Bill should not be seen to “circumvent” data protection laws, the Department of Social Protection says sharing for the purposes of fraud investigation would be “worth considering further”.

Areas it makes a priority for data sharing include “information from bankers/financial institutions where means testing is involved or where residency within the State is a condition of receipt of certain State assistance in order to prevent fraud”.

Money transfers It also suggests a provision for sharing information on money transfers through services such as Western Union where individuals are making regular payments outside the State.

Data from Revenue on individuals who have multiple properties might also be shared with DSP inspectors and deciding officers, the submission says.

The department suggests linking “appropriate health and educational data” to information on welfare recipients.

These are listed among its “priority areas” for data sharing to help contribute to improved public services.

The department spends more than €20 billion annually and nearly 1.5 million people a week receive a social welfare payment, including pensions, carers’ benefits, jobseeker supports and child benefit.

It has said the “vast majority” on welfare are claiming the correct entitlement.

‘Credit union issue’ In an apparent reference to recent controversies over personal data, its submission says the “credit union issue” and the sharing of PPS numbers with Irish Water were focusing attention on data sharing.

Last year, two private investigators who obtained access to data from social welfare officials and passed it to credit unions were convicted after they were prosecuted by the Data Protection Commissioner. Another private investigator and former garda who obtained information on individuals from the Garda Pulse system was convicted in a separate case.

In its own submission on the policy paper, the commissioner’s office said personal data was leaking from parts of the State sector “on a daily basis”.

“In other instances, State employees may be deemed to have been reckless and negligent in their duties in responding to unverified agents who have misrepresented themselves in telephone calls and have been successfully able to solicit personal data held on state databases on a continuous and daily basis.”

Separately, the Department of Education confirmed primary school principals were being asked to add a range of information on all pupils to a national database, including their PPS numbers.