Welfare cheats chased beyond the grave: €14m already found
Dead targeted due to fraud or error payments
SOCIAL Protection inspectors have targeted the dead in the hunt for millions of taxpayer euros paid to people with hidden assets, the Irish Mail on Sunday can reveal.
More than €14m has already been reclaimed from the estates of over 400 dead people last year, working out at an average of €35,000 each.
Junior Minister in the department, Finian McGrath, who revealed the figures to the MoS, said the overpayments were made when estates are being wound up because those who made the claims gave false information or through error, or where a relative or friend continues to make the claims.
He said the overpayment is discovered ‘when the schedule of the deceased’s assets is received in the department and it is assessed that he or she had been receiving means-tested payments beyond his or her entitlement. This is often the case where the deceased person did not disclose or fully disclose money in financial institutions, had investments or did not disclose an interest in property or land.
‘The amount of fraud going on is minimum,’ he said.
Minor overpayments are made when entitlements continue to be paid out in the days immediately after the death and before the department is told. And in ‘rarer’ cases a family member, agent or other person continues to cash a pension or other social welfare payment due to the deceased.
Mr McGrath has revealed that €14.3m was overpaid in respect of 408 dead people, who had undisclosed or underdisclosed assets at the time of their deaths.
Last October, a pensioner who used two PPS numbers to steal more than €200,000 in benefits from the Exchequer over almost 20 years was handed down a suspended sentence.
The 72-year-old fraudulently claimed Deserted Wives’ Allowance and the non-contributory state pension under her married name, while working a variety of jobs using her maiden name.
The Social Protection Department processes more than two million applications for support every year and makes payments to some 1.4m every week. A spokesperson told the MoS that nearly 755,000 reviews were conducted by the department last year.
‘Practice focuses on areas where risks are known to exist, including the risk of death of a pension recipient. Death registrations are collected by the General Register’s Office, which operates under the aegis of the department and results in immediate termination of payment,’ said a spokesperson.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the lowest estimate of the scale of welfare fraud in this country is about €40m a year.
‘That is a lot of money, in my view. Let us not forget that people who engage in welfare fraud are not the poor and vulnerable. They are people who are pretending to be poor and vulnerable. They are people who are working and claiming,’ said the Taoiseach.
The Public Services Card has also helped detect more than 135 cases of suspected social welfare fraud, using facial recognition technology since 2013.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said this technology has led to a number of successful prosecutions, with significant custodial sentences being imposed.
The card, through the inclusion of a photograph, signature, and better security features, ‘considerably reduces the potential for identity theft, forgery and fraudulent use.’
‘€40m a year lost in social welfare fraud’