I propose to take Questions Nos. 396, 398, 399 and 406 together.
The Department has a duty to ensure that it pays the right person the right amount of money at the right time. It is important that all schemes operated by the Department, including widow(er)'s and surviving civil partner's contributory pension, are subject to review and continuing eligibility checks. This includes conducting fraud and error surveys which serve to reaffirm the entitlement of randomly selected recipients to their payments.
The Department has agreed criteria with the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General for the successful implementation of baseline fraud and error surveys.
The process involves:
- Social welfare inspectors reviewing a random sample (circa 1,000) of claims to assess the underlying levels of fraud and error and reporting back to the relevant scheme area
- Action being taken by scheme managers to address the fraud and error risks identified
- Learning from each survey which is applied in the operation of future surveys.
A random control survey, by its nature, must be conducted without prior notification to the recipients selected. Inspectors visit the address of the recipient as held on the Department’s records. There is an onus on all customers of the Department, regardless of age, to cooperate with the process when requested, confirming their identity and compliance with other scheme specific criteria. The Department’s experience is that people selected to participate in the surveys are more than willing to participate; people legitimately claiming their entitlements acknowledge the efforts of the Department to ensure social welfare expenditure is appropriately applied.
A fraud and error survey of 1,000 widow(er)'s and surviving civil partner's contributory pension claims commenced in Quarter 3, 2013. Details of the randomly selected claims were sent to relevant Social Welfare Inspectors throughout the country, to interview the recipients and determine if they continued to satisfy the conditions for receipt of payment, together with any increases payable.
In the case of the widow(er)'s and surviving civil partner's contributory pension recipient referred to by the Deputy, the Social Welfare Inspector made a number of attempts in September 2013 to arrange the required interview. The person concerned advised the inspector, by telephone on 17th September 2013, that she was not prepared to engage with the Department’s survey. This was despite the Inspector clearly outlining to her that continuing her payment may be affected and that a phone call could not be regarded as sufficient verification of her identity.
Subsequent action to suspend payment arose as a result of the Department being unable to validate the recipient’s identity or any change in circumstances which may affect her continuing eligibility to the payment. A letter issued on 9th January 2013 notifying her that her payment was being suspended due to her failure to cooperate with the control survey. The letter also afforded her the continuing opportunity to contact the Department for completion of the interview and survey. She declined to cooperate with every effort made in this case.
I sincerely regret the distress that this matter caused. However, I am sure the Deputy will fully appreciate that the Department takes very seriously its responsibilities to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent properly and that officials of the Department are doing the job requested of them, in a very professional manner, to achieve this fundamental objective. On foot of the verification information supplied by the Deputy, the payment was reinstated and made available for collection.