Wednesday, 29 January 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
25. Mr. McCreevy asked the Minister for Social Welfare the savings, if any, which have accrued to the Exchequer to date in relation to social welfare abuse detection since the publication of the survey by the Central Statistics Office in September 1996; the manner in which the resultant savings from social welfare abuse detection measures will be utilised by the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24146/96]
29. Mr. M. Ahern asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he has issued social welfare fraud guidelines to social welfare officers; if not, the reason therefor; and when he will rectify this serious omission in the programme to tackle social welfare abuse. [22161/96]
39. Mr. M. Ahern asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether he has reviewed the estimate of expenditure by his Department in view of his recent statement that 20 per cent to 25 per cent of applicants were defrauding the social welfare system. [22280/96]
46. Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare the additional resources allocated to tackle social welfare fraud and abuse since 16 October 1996; the number of additional specialist control officers who will be assigned before the year end 1996; and the precise date on which the proposed programme of six monthly interviews of unemployed persons will commence. [22158/96]
49. Miss Harney asked the Minister for Social Welfare the proposals, if any, he has drawn up to tackle the fraudulent claiming of social welfare payments as highlighted in a recent survey carried out by the Central Statistics Office. [19221/96]
The CSO study was carried out to determine the reasons for the difference between the estimated level of unemployment as measured by the labour force survey and the number of persons on the live register. The CSO has urged caution in drawing detailed inferences relating to fraud in the live register from the study.
The study, however, gave rise to concerns regarding fraud and I responded quickly by introducing a more comprehensive programme of measures designed to tackle fraud and abuse, in particular, of unemployment payments.
This programme of measures includes a claim review exercise under which the continuing entitlement of all customers in receipt of either unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit is being examined. To date, some 200,000 persons have been contacted in relation to the continuing entitlements. This includes persons on the live register for over six months. In addition, under the special programme announced in last year's budget, 18 and 19 year olds who are on the live register for more than six months and who are not registered with FÁS have been contacted  by my Department and advised to register with FÁS. To date, under this programme my Department has contacted almost 2,500 young persons. Some 750 of these have registered with FÁS, 450 voluntarily signed off the live register and 1,300 are being further investigated by my Department. A more general programme of six monthly reviews will commence this month. These reviews will focus in particular on the conditionality aspects of claims. They will also be used to encourage claimants to pursue measures which will enhance their prospects of getting employment through involvement in educational opportunities, training, etc. Initially these reviews will be carried out on a selective basis by using carefully defined risk criteria.
The progressive measures already introduced have had a significant impact and during the last four months of 1996 the live register of unemployed persons fell by over 17,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The indications so far this year are that the downward trend is continuing.
I will also be arranging for a detailed examination with consultancy assistance to get more information on the level of social welfare abuse and an assessment of the effectiveness of the measures which my Department is currently putting in place to control such abuse. The terms of reference of the study will be framed in the light of the experience gained from the application of the current programme.
Additional resources are being deployed to support the intensified programme of control measures which I introduced. To date, 27 additional specialist control staff have been assigned and further staff will be assigned shortly.
Guidelines are issued regularly to local offices and inspectors on all aspects of their work, including issues relating to fraud and abuse. Revised guidelines reflecting the more rigorous approach now being taken to cases of possible abuse have been issued during recent months. The guidelines are reinforced on a regular basis during training courses.
Estimates of expenditure are reviewed on an ongoing basis in the light of trends in the numbers qualifying for payment. The measures which I have introduced are having a significant impact on the live register figures and consequently on expenditure on unemployment payments. While final figures for 1996 are not yet available, it is estimated that expenditure savings of some £20 million in 1996 can be attributed to the control programme. The impact of the measures has also been taken into account in drawing up the estimate of expenditure on unemployment payments in 1997. Estimated expenditure on unemployment payments in 1997, taking account of the increases in the recent budget, is £984.8 million reflecting an anticipated average live register figure  of 262,000 for 1997. It includes estimated savings of some £55 million.
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