The Department has a wide ranging programme to combat social welfare fraud and abuse. In this context, I launched a new strategic fraud initiative in early September which takes a revised and renewed approach to the challenges posed by social welfare fraud. The ambition is to ensure that the public have confidence and trust in this Government's response to combating fraud and abuse in the social welfare system. The new plan is designed 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 services.
The Department has, in the last number of years, been engaged in data matching with a number of other Government Departments and public bodies for control purposes. Data matching is viewed as a very efficient and effective mechanism to target control-related activity.
The legislative provisions that allow for the specific sharing of data are contained in section 261 (1) of the Social Welfare Act 2005. Information held by the Department for the purposes of the Act (including the purpose of collection by the Revenue Commissioners of employment and self-employment contributions) may be transferred by the Department to the Revenue Commissioners. Similarly, information held by the Revenue Commissioners for the purposes of this Act or the Income Tax Acts, relating to employers, the reckonable earnings of employed contributors or reckonable income or reckonable emoluments of self-employed contributors or of any payments made under this Act, may be transferred by the Revenue Commissioners to the Department.
Since 1997, the Department matches Revenue Commencement of Employment data against jobseekers data held by my Department on a monthly basis by cross-referencing PPS numbers. Where matches exist, employers are contacted and based on the information received, possible overlaps or cases involving concurrent working and claiming social welfare are identified and are referred for investigation.
In 2010, over 1.2 million records of commencement of employment were received from the Revenue Commissioners and nearly 75,000 were matched, by cross referencing PPS numbers with data held by the Department.
In conjunction with other agencies and in particular with Revenue, the Department tackles the shadow economy by a combination of data sharing, intelligence collation, assurance checks and outdoor operations including inspections and direct investigations. Policing what is conventionally viewed as hidden economy activity is as much about ensuring a level playing field for compliant businesses as it is about combating social welfare fraud. The Department's control programmes are regularly adjusted to concentrate on the areas of greatest risk, including risks from growth of the hidden economy.