By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A crackdown on a range of social welfare scams in Ireland saved the taxpayer £214 million (c. $217 million) last year.
Probes by the Department of Social Welfare’s 600 staff involved in various scam control units or working as investigators and medical assessors led to 269 cases being referred to the Chief State Solicitor’s Office for prosecution.
The Department’s control program saved almost £107 million on unemployment payments alone.
A spokesman said all cases of individual social welfare fraud or failures by employers to comply with their legal obligations are considered for criminal prosecution.
Of the 269 cases referred for legal action last year, 220 involved unemployment payments. Of these, 213 cases were finalized and a conviction was obtained in all except 14 cases.
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"The total of overpayments in respect of fraud or suspected fraud amounted to £11.25 million, representing 12,625 cases. Of these, £7.4 million, representing 11,493 cases, were in respect of unemployment payments," according to the Department.
The investigators discovered over 33,000 people who were getting higher social welfare cash payments than they were entitled to last year.
But over 20,000 of these were cases where there were errors, omission or insufficient evidence of fraudulent intent.
The investigation staff, working closely with the Revenue Commissioners, carried out inspections of employers’ books, checked for people claiming while they are also working, assessed means in non-contributory payment cases and reviewed ongoing entitlements in case of changed circumstances.
Under the Department’s employment action plan, people who reach various duration thresholds on the ‘Live Register’ (unemployment benefit) are identified and referred to FAS for interview about finding a job or training.
This program now covers all people under 25 after their have been six months claiming on the Live Register and all those aged between 25 to 54 who have been nine months on the Register.
Under the program, over 51,000 people have been referred to FAS and 67 percent have stopped claiming the dole.