Lone-parent households are being disproportionately targeted by 'incredibly intrusive' social welfare inspections, according to a Social Democrats TD.
Dublin TD Gary Gannon says there needs to be a fair and transparent process in place if inspectors are going to be 'rummaging through wardrobes'.
In October 2020, an investigation by the Irish Examiner highlighted the concerns of social welfare recipients about unannounced visits and searches of personal possessions.
Deputy Gannon told Newstalk Breakfast he has been trying to find out more information about the process since then but still hasn't received clarity.
He said: “A social welfare inspector can show up at a person’s house, thoroughly unannounced. There’s a huge wealth of anecdotal evidence that social welfare inspectors will come in and rummage through a person’s house and go through their wardrobes.
“The vast majority of lone parent households are led by females. They’re being asked invasive questions about the status of their relationships… or if they have other men over. It’s incredibly intrusive."
He said there's no evidence available about why these searches are taking place, despite almost one-in-five inspections resulting in welfare rates being reduced or cut off.
'Unfair and targeted'
The Social Democrats TD says it's not good enough to have to guess why these inspections are happening.
He said: “We’re saying that if these inspections are going to take place in the intensive way they are, we should have data behind them and there should be a fair & due process.
“It’s unfair, it’s targeted, and it plays off this belief that one-parent families are screwing the system
“They’re disproportionately targeted. We don’t go after pensions fraud in the same way, or other forms of fraud."
Deputy Gannon noted the pandemic has also seen the number of oral hearings around social welfare appeals plummet - with the hearings that do take place only happening online or by phone.
The number of social welfare appeals going to Oral Hearing has plummeted since the pandemic.
➡️In 2019: 35.1% or 5,829 of appeals finalised by Appeals Officers went to Oral Hearings
➡️In 2020: Only 8.3% or 1,712 went to Oral Hearing
Why does this matter? Cases that make (1/4) pic.twitter.com/Ew9yWbO8oH
— Gary Gannon TD (@GaryGannonTD) November 4, 2021
He suggested that's limited the opportunity for those who are appealing to go into the social welfare offices and outline their case in person.
For now, however, he said it's "incredibly unfair" that inspectors can carry out an unannounced inspection without having to "outline the suspicion" that's led to it.
He suggested: “If we’re going to do spot checks, fine. But we need to have the criteria set out by which these spot checks can take place."
He added that the current system is "disproportionately targeted at the people who are most vulnerable within this State".