Former social welfare inspector hits out at anti-fraud campaign

Bernadette Gorman says "there has always been very, very highly efficient anti-fraud activities" in the department

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Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

21:50 16 Jun 2017 Stephen McNeice 21:50 Friday 16 June 2017

A former inspector with the Department of Social Protection has said she is "very concerned" about the type of anti-fraud campaign currently being promoted by ministers.

Bernadette Gorman's comments come after the new Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty indicated that tackling fraud will continue to be a 'priority' for the department.

Speaking about the controversial campaign headed by her predecessor - the now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar - Minister Doherty said: "Anybody that's claiming money that they shouldn't be claiming - that would deny other people who should be claiming the money - is obviously going to be a priority.

"I think it's interesting that every single TD yesterday from the left stood up and challenged the Taoiseach over that [welfare fraud] campaign when it's defrauding money from the state."

Mrs Gorman, however, spoke to Newstalk Breakfast Friday morning to defend the department's anti-fraud practices.

The former inspector argued that staff have been extremely effective at stamping out fraud.

She said: "You would imagine - by listening to Leo Varadkar and Regina Doherty - that Leo Varadkar magicked the notion into the social welfare code of anti-fraud activities. The reality is there has always been very, very highly efficient anti-fraud activities within the department structure and statutes.

"Are you saying to me, or is Regina Doherty saying to me, that the methods whereby the fraud was policed for all those years was inefficient? I can tell you it wasn't."

'Projected figure'

She also suggested that the scale of fraud has been exaggerated, amid the department's claim that "anti-fraud and control measures in 2016 saved over €500m in expenditure".

Bernadette said: "There wasn't €500m worth of fraud in 2016 - that is a projected figure. The true figure is €40m - but when you factor out the unintentional fraud and the administrative errors, it's around €25m. That's a very, very small amount of the overall budget.

"[The projected figure is] fine internally [...] But that was put out by Leo Varadkar as a figure for fraud - slapped all over buses, slapped all over billboards in certain locations of the city."

The department's own figures from last December showed that "1,734 cases were assessed as having a fraud overpayment with a total value of €26.6m" in 2016, while €468m was saved through "control savings".

Department of Social Protection response

In relation to those figures, the Department of Social Protection said the press statement "is specifically referring to special investigations".

It said these are more detailed investigations conducted by the department’s Special Investigations Unit, which reports on the most serious fraud cases.

It also said in the year to November, its Special Investigations Unit assessed some 1,734 cases as having a fraud overpayment with a total value of €26.6m - and generated savings of €67m.

While in a statement to Newstalk.com on Friday evening, the Department of Social Protection said most of the €506m is accounted for by the control savings resulting from the department’s control activity in 2016.

Separately, €41m is accounted for by fraud.

"In 2016, the department identified €110m in overpayments of which €41m related to customer fraud and €46.7m related to customer error with estate overpayments amounting to €20m and departmental error amounting to €2.3m", it added.

 

Additional reporting: Jack Quann

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