Varadkar launches new campaign to tackle welfare cheats

The social protection minister said the department receives approximately 18,000 reports of fraud every year

Varadkar launches new campaign to tackle welfare cheats

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar TD at the launch of a new campaign entitled Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All, 18-04-2017. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

Updated 14:08

Leo Varadkar has today launched a new campaign encouraging people to report suspected social welfare cheats.

The social protection minister said the department currently receives approximately 18,000 reports of fraud every year.

Described as a “hard-hitting publicity campaign,” the multi-media advertising drive will promote the department’s online and telephone reporting services – and challenge the perceptions of those who see welfare fraud as a victimless crime.

Speaking as the campaign got underway this morning, Minister Varadkar said the department had already seen an immediate increase in calls.

“The Department of Social Protection spends €20bn every year so even at very low levels, fraud can cost the state tens if not hundreds of millions of Euro; so we want to encourage people to report it,” he said.

“All reports are treated as anonymous, they are followed up and they allow us to make sure that tax payers money is spent for the purpose intended.”

He said the department investigations all suspected cases of fraud - and where a case is found to be genuine, payments are suspended and recovered, with some cases also going forward for prosecution.

Social welfare fraud

Data released by the department in December showed 1,734 cases in 2016 were assessed as having a fraud overpayment with a total value of €26.6m.

A further 150 cases were referred to An Garda Síochána for consideration for prosecution.

The Irish Times reported last September that there was a 60% increase in the number of anonymous tip-offs made about suspected cases.

In a statement, the Department of Social Protection said it dealt with 20,800 allegations last year.

The department estimates that overall, a range of anti-fraud and control measures saved the taxpayer over €500m last year – with approximately one in three reports of fraud results in a payment being reduced or stopped. 

Technological advances

Minister Varadkar confirmed that the department is now using a range of new technological measures – including monitoring social media and using facial recognition software to tackle the problem:

“We have lots of different tools,” he said. “Obviously the introduction of the Public Service Card which 2.5 million people have now has made a big difference.”

“The facial recognition software can identify double people out there and even people putting on make-up and beards and things – none of that works because it is all based on bone structure.”

He said social media has also been used to detect welfare cheats and has been used as evidence in court prosecutions - and warned that the department may now push for the introduction of a naming and shaming system.

The system would see lists of people who have been prosecuted and convicted for welfare fraud are published on a quarterly basis.

You can report suspected welfare fraud using the department’s confidential online facility, by calling 01 673 45 45 or by post.