The State is to increase its search for social welfare fraud at airports as new figures show that one case has been detected every four days.
Welfare inspectors at ports and airports discovered 122 cases in the past 18 months, saving the State €1.35m as a result, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said.
Checks have been taking place at airports since a change in the law in 2012 in a bid to stop “welfare tourists” collecting benefits to which they are no longer entitled.
The Department’s €1.35m savings figure estimates future payments the welfare recipients would have received if they were not detected.
Ms Burton has indicated that such inspections would increase. “Access for additional officers to attend and operate in airports has been sought and, in the medium-term, it is intended to increase this activity,” she said in reply to a parliamentary question from Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan .
The Department would “actively pursue” the recovery of monies where there is evidence of overpayment, Ms Burton said.
There were five cases prosecuted as a result of “the operation of these powers” resulting in €54,000 being refunded to the Department, she said.
The operation at airports looks at “ those who may be welfare tourists coming repeatedly to the country with a view of collecting social welfare to which they are no longer entitled having left the country,” Ms Burton told the Dáil last week.
Migrant groups have previously said there was no evidence of social welfare fraud being more prevalent among migrant communities and urged that they not to be singled out in any crackdown.
Separately Ms Burton said a proposal announced last month to set up Garda checkpoints are to be set up in airports and industrial estates to counter welfare fraud was “currently being progressed”.
The pilot scheme will see 20 Garda members seconded into the department’s special investigations unit for a 12-month period, where they will assist in fraud investigation activities.
Ms Burton said the Department has operated 270 multi-agency checkpoints over the past three years. At a recent checkpoint in the mid-west aimed at road haulage operator, three people concurrently claiming social welfare and working were discovered , she said. This saved some €67,000, she told the Dáil last week.
The department has engaged in a ramping up of anti-fraud measures in recent years, encouraging the reporting of welfare fraud and publicising its successes in this regard.
In 2012 the department estimated it achieved €669 million in savings through anti-fraud measures, a figure which includes estimates of how much savings such false claims would incur into the future.
The Social Welfare and Pension Act 2012 included specific provisions to enhance and support fraud and control measures including allowing social welfare inspectors to exercise certain functions at ports and airports to identify individuals suspected of welfare tourism.