Monday 11 December 2017

Social welfare fraud and human error cost taxpayers €156k a day

Recipients queuing outside a Social Welfare office Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Recipients queuing outside a Social Welfare office Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

The Department of Social Protection lost €156,000 a day due to human error and fraud in 2014, new figures have shown.

In 2014, the authorities were owed around €124m in overpayments.

According to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, out of the €124m made in overpayments, some €52m was due to suspected fraud, while another €5m was mistakenly paid out due to administrative errors.

This means that €1.1m was issued by the department each week due to human error and fraud – or €156,000 each day.


Another €49m in overpayments were made due to genuine error on the part of participants – the remainder of the €124m was paid into the accounts of recipients who had passed away. Once the department had been notified of their deaths, these amounts would have been repaid.

Some €86m of the total 2014 amount was subsequently recovered by the Department of Social Protection – but the remainder of €38m was still owed to the taxpayer.

In 2013, roughly €127m went to the wrong people – €70m was recovered following an examination of accounts at the department.

According to Freedom of Information documents, more than 85pc of these overpayments were to people on welfare who failed to report changes to their circumstances.

However, as much as 5pc of the overpayments were attributed to human error by staff.

A spokesperson said the overpayments were less than 0.7pc of the department’s total spend – which came to €19.5bn in 2014. The department – headed up by outgoing Minister Joan Burton – made 83 million payments in that year.

In total, €524m in overpayments were made between 2010 and 2014.

A spokesman said the recovery of outstanding money was ongoing, and that those not entitled to financial assistance had a “liability” to pay it back.

He added that those who refused to engage with the department will have their “debt” marked on their record, and any outstanding amounts will be deducted from any future social welfare payments.

It can also be collected from any “remaining estate” held by a social welfare recipient.

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