One-fifth of a random sample of 100 recipients of the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) did not satisfy qualifying criteria for the full time they received the payment, according to the Department of Social Protection.
The internal audit was carried out by the department for claims made in the early months of the pandemic. The audit was finalised in December 2020 and sought to evaluate and tighten the control mechanisms in place to minimise fraudulent use of the PUP.
The department said on Monday that it follows up on “all cases” where it is identified that a person has been overpaid the PUP, and that it “takes a reasonable approach to recovery of sums overpaid” where these overpayments are believed to be due to genuine error or oversight by the claimant.
However, it said that in circumstances where fraud is suspected, the department will “seek to prosecute the people involved”.
A number of prosecutions have been initiated and convictions secured in this regard, while “more cases are being considered for prosecution”, it said.
The audit, which was first reported by The Irish Examiner, found that an applicant for the PUP at the beginning of the pandemic received just under €3,000 in payments despite official data showing no record of employment since 2005.
A second false claimant initially applied for the payment stating that their last day worked was February 14th, 2020. When that paper application was refused, they reapplied online and said their last day worked was March 12th.
Despite Revenue having no record of this claimant having worked at all in 2020, they eventually received just under €6,000 in payments up to August 2020. The claimant was still in receipt of the payment at the time of the audit.
The department said on Monday that the audit’s recommendations have been accepted and specific control projects have been undertaken as a result and focus on “those in receipt of payment for extended periods”.
“These projects are in addition to the ongoing control activity of the department,” it said.
“In addition, and in order to provide PUP claimants with employment services and job search supports, approximately 125,000 individuals have been contacted by the department’s employment services case officers.
“This service is continuing as public health restrictions are lifted and more employment opportunities become available to those in receipt of PUP income support and jobseeker payments.”
Within a month of the PUP scheme going live more than 507,000 people received at least one PUP payment.
Recipient numbers peaked at 602,108 on May 8th, 2020, while almost 1 million people have received at least one PUP payment.