Written Answers. - Computer Data Abuse.

16.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if arrangements are being made to ensure that the computer data base in his Department is being interfaced with the data base in other government Departments, so that steps are being taken to stop abuse, without putting genuine entitlement at risk.

My Department is implementing a major programme of computerisation to provide improved service to the public and the stage has now been reached where all the major schemes and services are computerised with the exception of the schemes of unemployment payments which are administered through the network of the Department's local offices. As part of this development additional safeguards and procedures to control abuse are being implemented, and where relevant, specific provisions are made for communications with other agencies dealing with social welfare claimants.

There is already very considerable exchange of information with other agencies operating in the social welfare and related areas. Currently much of this takes place using clerical systems. Computer systems are however playing an ever-increasing role in this regard. For example, the computer systems in the Revenue Commissioners are used to transfer bulk information concerning PRSI contributions and reckonable earnings to my Department to enable benefit entitlements to be established. Arising from this certain instances of fraud can be detected and dealt with such as cases of concurrent working and claiming.

Restricted access to information on social welfare computerised files, concerning claims in payment, is provided to certain officials of health boards. This assists them determine entitlements to supplementary welfare allowance which they administer on behalf of my Department. While the primary intention is to facilitate the public when they seek assistance, the ready availability of the data inevitably has the effect of exposing suspect claims for supplementary welfare allowance.

Computer data are provided to the Department of Labour to assist in the verification of redundancy payment claims. A computer link has also been established with AnCO for the transfer to the Department of data concerning trainees. Ongoing contacts with AnCO and the National Manpower Service will ensure that the exchange of data required in the administration of schemes for the unemployed will be tightened up. While the primary aim is the provision of a fast and flexible service, improved control can be expected. The updating and improvement of communications with other agencies are ongoing processes. Computerisation of employment exchanges and the NMS will be necessary to complete the process whereby the most effective methods can be implemented. The developments planned will be of direct benefit to genuine claimants while making it increasingly difficult for other persons to manipulate the various systems.