From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launching his ‘Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All’ campaign, when he was Minister for Social Protection in May 2017; the Public Accounts Committee this morning; Secretary General of the Department of Employment Social Protection John McKeon at the PAC
At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
Officials from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection fielded questions from the committee in light of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s 2016 report’s findings on social welfare payments, overpayments and schemes.
The officials included Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection John McKeon, above.
And how is the meeting going?
New secretary general of Department of Social Protection admits high-profile “welfare cheats cheat us all” campaign was a “mistake” amid significant Dail public accounts committee criticism over the policy.
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar launching his Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All campaign in April
You may recall how Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar launched his €200,845 Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All campaign last month.
In the relation to the launch, at the time, the Irish Independentreported:
Mr Varadkar said the facial recognition technology associated with the [public service] card was helping the Department of Social Protection find “doppelgangers” who try to double claim payments.
“There are quite a few out there,” he said. The facial recognition software can identify ‘double people’ out there. “Even people putting on make-up and beards and stuff. None of that works because it’s all based on bone structure.”
Further to this…
Sarah Bardon, in The Irish Times, reports:
The Department of Social Protection has identified just one suspected case of identity fraud this year, it has emerged.
The department said in response to a parliamentary question that 134 suspected cases had been identified between 2014 and April this year, with 21 successful prosecutions so far, and 18 people receiving custodial sentences.
Minister for Social Protection and Fine Gael TD Leo Varadkar launching his Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All campaign last month
Fine Gael TD and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar spoke to Cathal MacCoille on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
During the interview they briefly discussed the Social Welfare Bill and his plans to publish the names of people convicted of social welfare fraud.
It follows the recent launch of his Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All campaign, in which he calls on people to notify the authorities of people they believe are committing welfare fraud.
From the interview this morning…
Cathal MacCoille: “The Social Welfare Bill, it’s attracted a fair amount of attention already because of this proposal to publish the names and addresses of those convicted of welfare fraud. The reason you decided to do that? How many people will be affected?”
Leo Varadkar: “Any given year, it’s about 150 to 200. It’s adopting a somewhat similar approach to that of the Revenue Commissioners, although not going quite as far as they go. They publish settlements, we’ll only publish it if somebody is being convicted in a court of law.”
MacCoille: “Will you publish the details?”
Varadkar: “Obviously, the name and the address and the amount will be published. And also, in addition to that, there’ll be additional penalties for people convicted of welfare fraud. At the moment, sometimes, the penalties are very light. All you have to do is pay back the money the stole which is very unusual. In most fraud cases, you have to pay a penalty as well as pay back the money that was taken. And itwill allow us do that.”
Fine Gael TD and Minister for Protection Leo Varadkar launching his Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All campaign last week
You may recall the launch of Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar’s Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All campaign.
And Mr Varadkar saying that “a range of anti-fraud and control measures in the Department of Social Protection saved taxpayers more than €500million” in 2016.
And Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Bróin questioning Mr Varadkar’s figure of €500million in last weekend’s Sunday Business Post.
After going through Department of Social Protection’s Fraud and Error Surveys, annual Comptroller and Auditor General reports and parliamentary questions, Mr O’Bróin claimed that the number of welfare overpayments, due to errors by claimants or department staff, are much more significant than fraudulent welfare claims and that the errors cost more than the fraudulent claims.
Further to this…
Sinn Féin spokesperson for Social Protection John Brady has released a statement, saying:
“Last week, Minister Varadkar launched a ‘Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All’ advertising and online campaign set to cost the taxpayer €204,000. Initially, the department was unable to provide the total cost of this campaign but they have since advised me of this figure.
“The Department of Social Protection have claimed that they achieved overall savings of €506 million in 2016 as a result of ‘control and anti-fraud measures’. However, the actual calculation of this figure leaves more questions than answers. In fact, in the Department’s own words, it is based on nothing more than an assumption. The real figure from Department officials, received by the media today, stands at €41 million.
“The Department developed a bizarre method of calculation using multipliers where they assume that an excess payment would have continued to be paid for a set future period and therefore, they multiply the payment by an assumed length of time. In the case of Carer’s Allowance and Disability Allowance, the payment is multiplied by 136.
“When we look at the figures from past reviews undertaken by the Department, it clearly shows that the real issue to be tackled is the prevalence of over-payments rather than fraud. This is reflected in a number of previous Controller and Auditor General Reports which showed that between 2007 and 2011,50% of all overpayments were due to error while 38% of overpayments were due to fraud.
Assistant Secretary Department of Social Protection Kathleen Stack and the Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar at the launch of the ‘Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All’ campaign.
The Department of Social Protection press office responded this evening.
In a statement it said:
“‘The ‘Welfare Cheats – Cheat Us All‘ campaign, launched last week, aims to:
Raise awareness and challenge the culture around how Social Welfare Fraud is perceived –it is not a victimless crime;
Encourage the reporting of suspected fraud to the Department of Social Protection-anonymously via phone/or online; and
Demonstrate the considerable control reviews and investigations activity by the Department of Social Protection
In 2016, the Department achieved overall savings of €506m as a result of control and anti-fraud measures. This reflects the 950,000 reviews of individual claims undertaken by the Department last year to determine on-going entitlements.
These savings are an estimate of the value of the various control activities (entitlement reviews and inspections) undertaken across the Department’s various schemes.
The €506m in control savings does not include any cases where the customer voluntarily told the Department of changes in their means or circumstances which resulted in a reduction in the rate of payment or termination of their claim.
The overall control and anti-fraud savings figure is – and always has been – based on the assumption that, had the excess payment not been detected as a result of our control work, it would have continued for at least a set future period.
The €506m figure, therefore, represents the value of future social welfare expenditure which was avoided, owing to proactive investigations and reviews.”
Minister Leo Varadkar added:
‘The Department raised €110m in overpayments last year of which €41m related to customer fraud. Over €82m was actually recovered last year. These are the amounts detected and recovered and represent a figure that must be below the actual level of fraud given the volume that goes undetected or cannot be recovered.
Arguing about the exact amount, the difference between control, fraud and error misses one undeniable fact – millions is defrauded from the taxpayer through the social welfare system. It’s a crime and cracking down on it frees up much needed resources to expand entitlements or return to taxpayers.”