The PPS No. is the individual's unique reference number for all dealings with Government Departments and public bodies. This covers its use for DSP purposes as well as use by other agencies (in accordance with legislation — Section 262 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 provides the basis for the allocation, use and sharing of the PPS No.).
These numbers are issued by my Department following checks on an individual's identity. The checks vary depending on the type of individual concerned — we accept notification via the General Register Office of births but for the last number of years (since 2000) insist on a face to face interview before issuing a PPS number to a resident of working age.
There are some 7.4m records on my Department's central database, each identified by a PPS number. These records are for all PPS numbers ever issued so, the PPS numbers issued, and the population figure should differ. As well as all individuals currently resident in the State who have been issued with a PPS number, the figure also includes any individual who:
since 1979, required a PPS Number and has died,
has been resident in the State but has subsequently left the jurisdiction (including those born in the State since 1971) or
has not been resident in the State but has, for instance, benefited from an Irish Estate (the Revenue Commissioners have a requirement that all beneficiaries of Irish Estates should have a PPS Number).
It is not possible for me to describe all uses that other agencies have for the PPS Number, but it is worth remarking that my Department uses the number to identify an individual's PRSI contributions while they are working in the State. This means that, even after they have left the State, the number allocated to them remains valid. The PRSI contribution information will be relevant to calculating pension entitlements in other jurisdictions as well as this one.
I will also make the point that possession of a number, in itself, does not convey any entitlement. While it can make identifying a person easier for both the individual and the agency, checks on identity and meeting the qualifying conditions for any scheme must be carried out.
My Department takes its stewardship of the individual's data very seriously and, although any database containing the volume and historical content of its client records will contain incomplete and incorrect data, we have processes in place to monitor, correct and enhance the data that we hold. Most importantly, we also continue to enhance the processes associated with collecting the data in the first place.
I am committed to a zero tolerance approach to social welfare fraud, regardless of the scheme involved or the position of the person claiming it. It is a crime and persons defrauding the social welfare system will be pursued relentlessly by my Department.
The reorganisation of Departmental responsibilities along with the addition of almost 2,000 Community Welfare Staff (CWS) and FÁS staff to my Department will enhance our ability to interact directly with all our customers in more effective ways. The transfer of functions brings together employment supports and associated income support services in one organisation, the National Employment and Entitlements Service (NEES). Arising from this, a more integrated approach to fraud control can now be realised. A single customer view for control purposes will be created.
I have launched a strategic fraud and control plan earlier this week to ensure a targeted response to high risk sectors and to ensure an integrated approach to the prevention, deterrence and detection of social welfare abuse across the Department's schemes and services.
Ensuring that the right person is paid the right amount of money at the right time is an integral part of the day-to-day work of the Department of Social Protection. My Department processes in excess of 2 million claims each year and it makes payments to over one million people every week. The majority of payments issue to people who are fully entitled to their payment.
For 2011, the Department of Social Protection has a target of reviewing 780,000 individual welfare claims and to achieve €540m in control savings. This figure is the value of the control activity in the Department and if this work did not take place there would, over time, be a similar increase in total social welfare expenditure. To the end of July, my Department has carried out reviews on over 350,000 individual claims and have achieved control savings totalling almost €345m.
The control emphasis under the new control plan will be on increasing home visits by investigators and comprehensive face to face interviews of persons suspected of fraudulent activity. There will be a re-emphasis towards onsite inspections to increase a visible Departmental presence across those sectors of the economy where social welfare fraud is prevalent.
The Department has introduced a number of new measures to target control activity at high risk categories of claimants. In excess of 450,000 reviews will be undertaken in the working age cohort. The Department supplements reviews of entitlement by the frequent use of direct mail shot letters, particularly in relation to eligibility for child benefit.
In the case of persons receiving illness and disability payments, recipients are reviewed on a systematic basis through medical assessments and examinations, the frequency of which relates to the nature of the illness of disability. Residency checks on social welfare claims of specific cohorts of customers are undertaken nationwide in order to determine whether their residency status in the State is fulfilled.
The Department's Special Investigation Unit will undertake a series of targeted national projects aimed at the prevention and detection of social welfare fraud in high risk sectors, schemes and client cohorts. The unit will also work closely and collaboratively with other compliance and fraud investigation agencies to ensure that Social Welfare abuse is comprehensively deterred and detected (i.e. Revenue, NERA, and Garda Siochána).
A key aspect of control policy is to ensure that appropriate deterrents and sanctions are applied in instances where social welfare fraud has been detected. Where people have been overpaid the Department will take appropriate steps to recover this debt, including deductions being made from ongoing social welfare payments, lump-sum recoveries, or the instigation of civil proceedings where appropriate. It is the Department's policy to consider for prosecution all cases of fraud against the social welfare system.
Public Service cards are to come into use later this year. The PSC will include a photograph and signature. One of the anticipated advantages of the new card is that it will help to reduce fraud and error which result from the incorrect identification of benefit claimants.
My Department is very conscious of its obligation to protect public money and is determined to ensure that abuse of the system is prevented and is dealt with effectively when detected.