Social welfare fraud totalled €38.4m in 2017, report shows

Officials have recouped €42.1m out of €110m that was paid out in error or after fraud

Minister for Social Protection and Employment Affairs Regina Doherty.  Her department’s annual report shows  child benefit was paid to 625,000 individuals with 1.2 million children at a cost of about €2.1 billion. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Social Protection and Employment Affairs Regina Doherty. Her department’s annual report shows child benefit was paid to 625,000 individuals with 1.2 million children at a cost of about €2.1 billion. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A total of €38.4 million in public money was the subject of social welfare fraud in 2017, which was down slightly on the year before, new figures show.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said in its annual report on compliance and anti-fraud, published on Thursday, that almost 755,000 reviews of claims, inspections and investigations were undertaken during the year.

There were 21,292 reports of suspected fraud from members of the public last year. The highest proportion related to individuals who were said to be claiming a payment and working at the same time.

Two-thirds of these contained sufficient information to “warrant concern”. These reports were sent for further examination by specialist staff and social welfare inspectors.

The report also shows that child benefit was paid to 625,000 individuals with 1.2 million children at a cost of approximately €2.1 billion. During the year, eligibility checks were made on 325,000 children.

It was found that payment should no longer be made in respect of almost 10,000 children, with the main reason being that they were no longer resident in the State.

Prosecution process

The department said it referred more than 300 cases to the courts or to the Garda for prosecution during the year. At the end of 2017, there were 589 cases in the court system at various stages of the prosecution process.

It said “control savings” last year totalled just over €530 million, but this figure included the value of prevented expenditure “over a future period” that would have been incurred if anti-fraud and control work to identify errors had not been carried out.

Overpayments of benefit and assistance on individual cases amounted to €111 million over the course of 2017. The value of overpayments attributable to fraud and suspected fraud fell to €38.4 million in 2017 from €41 million in 2016.

Claimant error accounted for €56.4 million, which was just over half the total. Errors on the part of the department or its officials fell to 1.6 per cent of the total value of overpayments.

People who were overpaid the State pension made repayments of more than €23.4 million, which was the scheme where the highest value of repayment was made in the year.

Jobseekers allowance

Another scheme where repayments were high was the means-tested jobseekers allowance, where just under €21 million in repayments were made.

By the end of the year, €42.1 million, or 38 per cent, of overpayments for the year had been repaid in full. Repayments were being made on €26.6 million, or 24 per cent, of the overpayments. Some €30.7 million, or 27 per cent, were pending recovery.

Roughly €12.5 million, or 11 per cent, of overpayments raised in 2017 remained subject to appeal and other review processes.