asked the Minister for Social Welfare if, given the review of the social welfare payments system conducted by Craig Gardner Management Consultants, he will outline the steps he has taken to improve the control mechanisms with a view to lessening the incidence of fraud; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Fraud.
Following their detailed examination of the major payment systems in my Department the consultants, Craig Gardner, submitted three reports containing a large number of recommendations. The first report was an overview of the Department's payment systems as a whole and the other two reports dealt in detail with the disability benefits and unemployment payments systems.
The consultants reported on organisational and procedural weaknesses, on the inadequacy of certain control procedures and on the difficulties which reliance on outside agencies can cause. In a separate study the consultants assisted my Department in developing statistical sampling methods to estimate the level of social welfare abuse. The results of a survey of disability benefit and unemployment payments abuse in the Dublin area are contained in a booklet which contains a summary of the reports and this was circulated to members of the House last year.
Since I took up office, I have placed a very high priority on the curtailment of abuse of the social welfare payments system and major strides have been made in that area. I intend to continue to monitor the situation and to take whatever measures are necessary to curb fraud and abuse in social welfare and to ensure that resources are directed to genuine claimants.
All of the consultants' operational recommendations in relation to the disability benefits payments system have been put into place. In relation to the very extensive report on unemployment payments, the consultants while finding that the way in which the Department were adapting to meet the security issues, by their emphasis on information technology and their plans to localise the delivery and control of their services was satisfactory, called for a fundamental organisational change particularly in the local office structure. This will take time to accomplish. To facilitate these improvements this Government undertook major investment in new technology for employment exchanges in 1987.
Following a detailed examination of the recommendations on the local office structure comprehensive proposals were drawn up on the lines recommended by the consultants. My Department are having discussions with the Department of Finance about these proposals.
In the meantime, individual recommendations which are not dependent on the major policy issues are examined and implemented by the various branches within my Department as part of my ongoing reviews of security and fraud prevention controls. Some of the major recommendations which have already been implemented include the following — first, agreement in principle has been reached with the Revenue Commissioners that this Department will take control of the issuing of RSI numbers. Second, greater exchange of information between the Department and the Revenue Commissioners to facilitate joint operations in relation to tax and social welfare matters was provided for under the Social Welfare Act, 1988. Third, legislation which requires employers to notify the Department of the commencement of employment of new employees was introduced last year, together with increased penalties for those, including employers, caught abusing the social welfare system. I have made provision in this years Social Welfare Act to enable me to extend the notification procedures to sub-contractors. Fourth, procedures have been introduced to improve controls in the payments operations in local offices by for example, providing better segregation of duties.