Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Questions (304)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

304. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the steps she continues to take to ensure against the occurrence of overpayments which result in recovery and consequent hardship with particular reference to cases where the overpayment was not as a result of an oversight or negligence on the part of the applicant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11629/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

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. It is the Department’s policy that every effort is made to prevent overpayments but, where they occur, they should be regarded as a debt to the Exchequer and every effort must be made to recover the amounts through all available means. Those clients who are aware that they are being - or have been - overpaid by my Department should contact their local social welfare office immediately. An overpayment recovery plan, acceptable both to the customer and to the Department, will then be agreed. The general approach is that the recovery amount proposed will be the maximum repayment that the debtor can afford in order to recover the overpayment as quickly as possible.

My Department is fully committed to recovering 100% of overpayments. Debt holders should be aware that a departmental debt will remain on their records until fully recovered and will result in a reduction of all future entitlements up to and including state pension. Following the death of a customer who owes a debt, the Department will have a claim on any estate remaining.

In the context of the Fraud Initiative 2011 – 2013, the Department is reviewing its overall approach to debt recovery. Effective debt recovery is seen as an integral part of the deterrent to fraudulent claiming. In this regard, section 13 of the Social Welfare Act, 2012, allows for a deduction of up to 15% from a person’s weekly personal rate to be deducted for the purposes of recovering an overpayment. It is not the Department’s intention to make deductions that are likely to visit hardship on beneficiaries. The new provisions preserve a minimum entitlement of up to 85% of a beneficiary’s personal payment in all cases of overpayment, leaving increases for dependants intact. It is envisaged that this measure, along with a range of other options that are currently being considered by the Department, will serve to minimise overpayments in the future, as well as increasing the rate of recoveries where overpayments arise.