I propose to take Questions Nos. 92, 101 and 116 together.
The prevention of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system is an integral part of the day-to-day work of the Department. A key objective of the Department's control strategy is to ensure that the right person is paid the right amount of money at the right time.
The Department processes in excess of 2 million claims each year and it makes payments to over one million people every week. The vast majority of people are receiving the entitlement due to them.
Welfare fraud is theft. It is a serious crime and the Department is doing everything that it can to crack down on people who abuse the system. There are over 620 staff working in areas related to control of fraud and abuse of the welfare system.
The level of fraud on most schemes is very low. As reported by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the percentage of expenditure resulting from fraud identified in the Department's Fraud and Error surveys was 0% for pensioners, 0.1% for Illness Benefit, 0.8% for the Family Income Supplement, 1.8% for Child Benefit and 2.3% for the Disability Allowance.
Nonetheless, the Department is conscious that in a small number of schemes, some groups of claimants present a higher risk than others and we have made changes to address this. For example, a number of individual surveys have highlighted a high level of risk that non-Irish nationals could claim welfare payments to which they are no longer entitled after they have left the State. Having identified this risk, the Department has sought to minimise it by removing the option to receive payments by Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) for new claimants of jobseeker payments.
Targeted control measures have also been put in place in relation to other customer segments in schemes where any form of high risk has been identified. Since the department started the cross-border operations, the percentage year-on-year increase in people signing on for jobseeker's payments in virtually all of the border offices had reduced.
Fraud detection systems have also been improved through data matches with organisations such as the Revenue Commissioners on commencement of employment data, the General Registrars Office on Marriages and Deaths information, and many other organisations including the Departments of Justice, Environment, Education and other state bodies. In addition, a data matching programme is now in place to ensure that relevant information available in one area of the Department is applied to all schemes.
Greater emphasis was also placed last year on prevention of fraud and error at the claim application stage. While this is of course the most cost effective mechanism of reducing unwarranted welfare expenditure, it should be noted that savings achieved in this way are not included in the published figures for control savings.
For 2009, the Department set a target of reviewing almost 620,000 individual welfare claims. In fact over 750,000 reviews were actually carried out last year — 20% more than the annual target. The total fraud and error savings recorded for the year was approximately €484 million. While this was lower than the target set for 2009, it represented an increase of €8 million on the 2008 figure.
In considering the level of savings recorded in 2009, it is important to note that the final average live register figure for the year, at 395,500, was significantly lower than the 440,000 that had been predicted when the annual target was set. Also, while it is difficult to identify exactly why the above-target number of reviews did not generate higher savings, it may be partially due to decreased opportunities for people to work and claim. Increased emphasis on preventing unwarranted claims at the initial application stage may also have led to a reduction in the number of claims having to be stopped after they have gone into payment.
It is also worth noting that the 2009 control savings from several schemes were ahead of target. These include Child Benefit, One Parent Family Payment, Illness payments and Pensions.
The number of anonymous reports from members of the public has increased dramatically in the past year, with over 6,400 reports made at end 2009 compared to approximately 1,000 reports made in 2008. Each report is followed-up and savings are included in the savings reported within the individual scheme areas.
The Department is committed to ensuring that social welfare payments are available to those who are entitled to them. In this regard the control programme of my Department is carefully monitored and the various measures are continuously refined to ensure that they remain effective. As Deputies will be aware, the recent Social Welfare Bill included extra anti-fraud powers for the Department.