Thursday, 26 January 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
9. Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Social Protection the steps she will take to tackle the issue of the black economy, particularly those claiming social welfare payments while carrying out jobs without paying tax. [4322/12]
Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): The prevention of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system is an integral part of the day-to-day work of the Department which processes in excess of 2 million claims each year and makes payments to some 1.4 million people every week. Social Welfare fraud is not a victimless crime. However, it is important to recognise that the vast majority of people are receiving the entitlement due to them.
In September 2011, I published my Department’s new Fraud Initiative (2011-2013). Central to this initiative is a commitment to ensure a concerted and active policing of the hidden (or black) economy sector where there is a prevalence of social welfare fraud and tax non-compliance. Policing what is conventionally viewed as hidden economy activity is as much about ensuring a level playing field for compliant businesses and taxpayers as it is about combating social welfare fraud. A range of specific activities are being undertaken in the context of this plan including those outlined below.
In conjunction with other agencies and in particular with Revenue, the Department tackles the shadow economy by a combination of intelligence collation, assurance checks, data sharing and outdoor operations including inspections and direct investigations. My Department liaises bilaterally with Revenue through the High Level Group. One of the priorities of the group is to ensure ongoing collaboration and interaction between the organisations, including activities designed to combat social welfare fraud and tax non-compliance.
A series of high visibility site visits and employer inspections are systematically conducted by Departmental Investigators and Revenue Officials to detect incidences of social welfare fraud and tax evasion. These visits and inspections are undertaken in those sectors where the risk of fraud and tax non compliance is most prevalent.
In the context of self employed trades people who may be engaged in social welfare fraud it is worth noting that a number of high visibility operations are being jointly conducted by my Department’s Special Investigation Unit and local authority environmental officers to identify environmental offences and simultaneously detect incidences of social welfare fraud. My Department participates on the Hidden Economy Monitoring Group with Revenue, employer and union representative bodies. This Group provides a formal structure to monitor developments, share experiences and make proposals for combating the hidden economy.
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