Parliamentary Question – Social Welfare Fraud

Question No:  91                                                                         Ref No:  44507/12

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the number of claims of a fraudulent nature have been made to her Department in 2011; the number of incorrect payments made by her Department in 2011; the cost of these payments in total to the Exchequer; the funding allocated to the investigation and recouping of these payments in 2011 and to date in 2012; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Alan Farrell.

*  For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 16th October, 2012.

Overpayments are the only instances where it can be proven conclusively that a payment has been incorrectly paid.  An overpayment will arise where, in accordance with Part 11 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, a revised decision is made by a deciding officer on a claimant’s claim resulting in a retrospective reduction in his/her entitlement.

The Department categorises overpayments as fraud, non-fraud and estate cases.  In 2011, there were a total of 63,310 overpayments amounting to €92.4m.  Fraud cases arise mainly on foot of false declarations by customers concerning their employment, income or family status while non-fraud cases are primarily due to customer, third party or departmental error.   Estate cases arise where undisclosed means by customers (usually pensioners) come to light after their deaths.

The breakdown of the 2011 overpayments is as follows:
·    Fraud – €34.9m involving 20,585 cases;
·    Non-fraud – €46.0m involving 42,354 cases; and
·    Estate – €11.5m involving 371 cases.

The Department is fully committed to recovering 100% of all overpayments. An outstanding overpayment will result in a reduction of all future entitlements up to and including State pension and potentially a claim on any estate.  An overpayment will remain on a customer’s record until fully recovered. The Department endeavours to seek the maximum level of repayments from customers in order to encourage prompt repayment of all debts.  Effective debt recovery is seen an integral part of the deterrent to fraudulent claiming.

The Department’s Central Overpayments and Debt Management Unit is the central reporting area for all the Department’s overpayments and it monitors debt recovery policies and practices across the various scheme areas with a view to improving the level of debt recovered. However, it is important to point out that each of the Department’s primary scheme areas and local offices has a localised debt management function.  The number of staff specifically involved in the management and collection of debt will depend on the claim load and the level of overpayments in each of these areas.