EI fraud hits $100M

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - POL­I­TICS/SE­CU­RITY

The col­lec­tion bill for money fraud­u­lently claimed through the em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance pro­gram has sur­passed $100 mil­lion, but the gov­ern­ment doesn’t ex­pect to col­lect the money any time soon.

Fig­ures re­leased to The Cana­dian Press show that debt col­lec­tion is in­creas­ingly be­ing pushed off to fu­ture years, even as the gov­ern­ment ap­pears to be more ef­fi­cient at un­cov­er­ing bad debts.

The fig­ures show that in fis­cal year 2013-14, which ended March 31, 2014 and are the most re­cent fig­ures avail­able, the depart­ment re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing EI — Em­ploy­ment and So­cial De­vel­op­ment Canada — watched the col­lec­tion bill hit al­most $102.7 mil­lion.

That’s the amount the gov­ern­ment aims to col­lect at some point over the next six years.

In fis­cal year 2007-08, the sec­ond year of the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, the value of fraud­u­lent claims the gov­ern­ment ex­pected to col­lect at some point in the fu­ture stood at just un­der $25.3 mil­lion, or about one quar­ter of what was ex­pected in 2013-14.

It’s un­clear why the depart­ment is putting off more and more of its debt-col­lec­tion ef­forts into the fu­ture.

The depart­ment didn’t ex­plain why, nor did the min­is­ter’s of­fice.

“Our Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment will not apol­o­gize for en­sur­ing taxpayers’ money is treated with re­spect,” Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter Pierre Poilievre said in a state­ment.

“Our party, un­like the Lib­er­als and NDP, is com­mit­ted to keep­ing taxes low for Cana­di­ans, which means re­coup­ing funds when they are im­prop­erly claimed.”

The longer the debt goes un­col­lected, the greater the like­li­hood the gov­ern­ment will have to write off mil­lions in ben­e­fits wrong­fully handed out to Cana­di­ans for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, in­clud­ing if the debtor dies or de­clares bank­ruptcy, or that the debt it­self has passed the 72month statute of lim­i­ta­tions for its col­lec­tion.

“They seem to be putting ef­fort in find­ing the fraud? but if this is ac­tual, hon­est-to-good­ness fraud, we have a bet­ter chance of get­ting it now than we would five years from now,” said An­gella MacEwen, se­nior economist with the Cana­dian Labour Congress.

But even as more and more of the col­lec­tion of those bad debts is be­ing post­poned for fu­ture col­lec­tion, the gov­ern­ment ap­pears to be get­ting bet­ter at root­ing out fraud.

The amount col­lected in fis­cal year 2006-07 was about $1 mil­lion of bad claims that year.

The amount col­lected steadily rose in sub­se­quent years, and peaked in fis­cal year 2012-13 when the gov­ern­ment col­lected $31.4 mil­lion, the same year the Con­ser­va­tives faced ac­cu­sa­tions they were re­quir­ing of­fi­cials to meet quo­tas in the fraud hunt, a charge the gov­ern­ment de­nied.

EI of­fi­cials con­tinue to keep a close eye on claims.

The amount of fraud, how­ever, re­mains low rel­a­tive to the to­tal amount handed out.

Of the more than $15 bil­lion in ben­e­fits handed out an­nu­ally, less than one per cent is for fraud­u­lent claims, MacEwen said.

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