Investigators find €19.8 million in wrongly claimed pandemic payments

Gardaí and department find 13,000 fraudulent claims or overpayments to date

More than €1 million is being wrongly claimed in pandemic unemployment payments (PUP) every month.

Gardaí working alongside officials within a special investigation unit in the Department of Social Protection have detected 12,939 fraudulent claims or overpayments to date, figures obtained by The Irish Times show.

The total value of the overpayments between March last year and the end of July this year stands at €19.8 million – averaging at around €1.2 million every month over the 17-month period of the special payments scheme.

The Department of Social Protection said it has recovered €9.5 million – just under half of the total.


Last week, the department warned it “will take steps to recover” any overpayments of the PUP.

More than 20 gardaí are working with the department’s special investigation unit, which is carrying out the checks.

Claims are being tested against Revenue records, bank account use, tip-offs from employers and the public. The unit is also using data analytics to flush out any fraud or overpayment.

The department has also warned that “severe cases” will be pursued through the courts.

“People who have been overpaid social welfare have a liability to refund the overpayment as they have been in receipt of a payment to which they were not entitled,” a department spokesman said.

“Where an overpayment is raised, the department makes every effort to recover the amount overpaid.

“Where we find suspected fraudulent claiming, we pursue those who offend to ensure the funds are returned and the most severe cases are brought to the attention of the courts.”

The spokesman said the department would not comment on any prosecutions or ongoing investigations.

It was also unable to provide a breakdown of the overpayments by industry or by county.

“Recovery is sought over a period without imposing undue financial hardship on the customer,” the spokesman said.

“The department will work with the customer and consider personal circumstances in determining a repayment plan.”

More than 157,000 people remain on special pandemic unemployment payments, over a third of them workers from the hospitality and retail industries.

Last week 157,712 recipients were paid a total of €46.7 million.

Almost 34,000 were from the hospitality sector and almost 25,000 had been working in retail or wholesale.

Just over 18,000 were working in administration and support services.

Another 13,000 claims were by people working in construction, 9,000 in manufacturing and almost 8,000 in “other sectors” including businesses like hairdressing and beauty salons.

The numbers in receipt of the PUP are in addition to the 184,213 people who were signing on the live register at the end of July.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys has warned people to close their claim for the PUP on the actual date when they return to work.