Wednesday, 25 January 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
126. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection, further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 413 to 415, inclusive, of 11 January 2012, if she will introduce legislation to ensure that, when it is possible to establish that individuals reporting social welfare abuse are engaged in unfounded malicious abuse, a penalty will be imposed to prevent waste of public funds and harassment of social welfare recipients (details supplied). [4474/12]
Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): My Department accepts reports of possible fraud from members of the public in relation to the operation of its schemes and uses both a dedicated phone number and a facility on the Department’s website for this purpose. Members of the public are asked to provide as much detail as possible about the case they are reporting and they can do so anonymously. All anonymous or confidential reports are examined and, where relevant, are referred to Scheme owners and/or to the Department’s Inspectors.
The 4,036 cases to which the Deputy refers were cases received in 2011 where it was not possible to issue a report for investigation due to a number of reasons. These included (i) a lack of information, (ii) a claim not being in payment, or (iii) the information reported did not impact on entitlement. These reports are made anonymously to the Department and, therefore, it is not possible to identify who has made them. In view of the anonymity of these reports, it would not be feasible to introduce any new legislation in this regard.
However, the Deputy should note that it is the experience of the Department’s inspectors that only a very small minority of these anonymous reports may have been made maliciously. It is also important to note that a payment is not normally suspended or stopped solely on the basis of an anonymous report. The anonymous report, however, may be a trigger for the instigation of a review of a customer’s entitlement.
A Social Welfare Inspector may then deem it appropriate to interview the customer and to carry out a full review of the circumstances and means of the customer in order to determine on-going entitlement to the relevant payment. The Inspector may then send his report on the case to one of the Department’s deciding officers for a decision regarding entitlement. Where the review indicates that the customer is not entitled to the relevant payment, the claim may be suspended, reduced or terminated.
My Department is very conscious of its obligation to protect public money and is determined to ensure that abuse of the system is prevented and is dealt with effectively when detected.  Therefore, it is the Department’s policy to review all customers on an on-going basis, and in addition, all cases of suspected abuse are referred for investigation. However, it is important to recognise that the vast majority of people are receiving the entitlement due to them.
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