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Written Answers - Social Welfare Fraud

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 113.  Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith  asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  if she will clarify the view or perception that some self-employed persons, for example, tradesmen, mobile repair persons and others who need and use commercially taxed and insured vehicles to operate, are claiming jobseeker’s allowance while working and thus defrauding the system; if there is any sharing of data between the Departments to combat such abuse; if data such as cross-checking lists of names of persons taxed and insured for driving commercial vehicles is permissible; her plans to set up such checking; if any pilot scheme specifically targeted at this perceived abuse has taken place; if same can now be put in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7335/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The prevention of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system is an integral part of the day-to-day work of the Department which processes in excess of 2 million claims each year and makes payments to some 1.4 million people every week. However, it is important to recognise that the vast majority of people are receiving the entitlement due to them.

Self-employed people can apply for the means-tested Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) if their business ceases or if they are on low income as a result of a downturn in demand for their services. Self-employed customers do not have to de-register as self-employed persons in order to claim (JA).

Legislation provides for the assessment of ‘all income in cash and any non-cash benefits which the person or his or her spouse may reasonably expect to receive during the succeeding year’.

Where the income in the coming 12 months is not readily ascertainable, the income for the last 12 months is taken as a guide, allowing for any factors which it is known will vary.

If the means of the family are equal to or in excess of the family rate payable on (JA) then the claim is disallowed.

If a self-employed person’s situation changes after they have made an initial claim for (JA), they can apply to have their means reviewed in the light of their changed circumstances. In [153]addition, it is open to the individual if he or she is dissatisfied with the means assessed to appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals office.

My Department has a wide ranging programme to combat social welfare fraud and abuse. The Fraud Initiative 2011-2013 takes a revised and renewed approach to the challenges posed by social welfare fraud and sets out a range of actions to ensure an integrated approach to the prevention, deterrence and detection of social welfare abuse across the Department’s services.

The emphasis of the Department’s control activities is on direct intervention and engagement. High visibility operations by the Department’s Special Investigation Unit are regularly and systematically undertaken. The effectiveness and cost-benefit of these operations and projects are continuously analysed and operational experience critically informs whether to continue, escalate or terminate the specific projects. New control projects will be developed and introduced, where appropriate. In the context of self-employed trades people who may be engaged in social welfare fraud, a range of specific activities are being undertaken in the under the Fraud Initiative including:

Where intelligence or reliable reports are received about persons engaged in concurrent working and claiming or under declaration of income, reviews of eligibility are immediately undertaken;

A series of high visibility site visits and employer inspections are systematically conducted to detect incidences of social welfare fraud. These visits and inspections are undertaken in those sectors where the risk of fraud is most prevalent; and

Multi agency checkpoints are undertaken with the Garda Traffic Unit and Revenue. Persons driving commercially taxed vehicles are interviewed as part of these projects.

My Department will continue to use data matching as an effective tool to curb abuse of the social welfare system.

To date, the Department has not undertaken specific analysis of persons driving commercial vehicles but as the Deputy is aware, legislation permits data sharing between Government departments and agencies for control purposes. Section 261(2) of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005 permits the Department to share data with another Department or specified body for control purposes in the administration of the Social Welfare Acts and does so on individual basis. The suggestion made by the Deputy can be examined in that context.

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