Welfare claimants with large savings repay €21m

One individual forced to repay €140,000 in benefits as part of Dirt tax investigation

State officials have been using bank data to match people who are paying out significant sums in Dirt tax on their savings, while also claiming means-tested benefits. File photograph: Aidan Crawley

State officials have been using bank data to match people who are paying out significant sums in Dirt tax on their savings, while also claiming means-tested benefits. File photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Hundreds of welfare recipients have been forced to repay millions of euro in means-tested benefits after it emerged they had large sums of undeclared bank savings.

New figures show investigations into the practice – code-named Operation Dirt – yielded some €21 million for the exchequer between 2013 and 2014.

Most of those targeted had savings in the region of €10,000, but some were found to have significantly more.

Earlier this year a handyman with almost €100,000 of undeclared savings was prosecuted for drawing welfare payments over a five-year period. In another case a person claiming jobseeker’s allowance had some €400,000 in savings.

Bank data

A total of €10.3 million was recovered in 2013, with a further €8.4 million recovered last year.

A breakdown shows that the highest amount an individual was forced to repay last year was just over €140,000.

The vast majority of people on social welfare are claiming the correct entitlement.

Research indicates fraud is involved in about 3 per cent of benefit payments, though this remains a significant sum when set against the €19 billion annual welfare budget.

Government departments and State agencies have been working closely in recent years to target pockets of fraud, as part of “joint investigation units”.

Twenty gardaí joined the Department of Social Protections’s special investigations unit last year as part of an effort to target sections of the cash economy and identity fraud. This unit also includes members of the Revenue.