I propose to take Questions Nos. 828 to 830, inclusive, together.
The Civil Registration Act 2004 places a legal obligation on the relatives, and other named parties in the absence of a relative, to register the death of a person and to do this within three months of the person dying. Once a death is registered, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is automatically informed of the death and any social welfare entitlements in payment will be stopped.
The deceased person’s next of kin or personal representatives should also notify my Department of the death directly, by telephone or in writing, pending issuance of the death certificate. The person’s payment can thus be suspended for review of the pension claim, not only to minimise potential overpayments of pension, but also to ascertain if further payments are due to the next of kin, where there may be uncollected payments at date of death or where there may be an entitlement to six weeks' payment after death to a surviving spouse, civil partner or cohabitant.
Every effort is made to ensure that overpayments do not occur but, where they occur, they are regarded as debts to the Exchequer and my Department is obligated to recover the amounts due. The Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended) makes provision for the recovery of amounts overpaid on any scheme, which remain outstanding at the time of their death, from the deceased person’s estate. My Department does not apply interest or penalties on the amounts owing.
Sections 335(a) and (b) of the Act provide that any benefit or assistance overpaid is repayable and that this obligation extends to any other person to whom the benefit was paid on behalf of that person, or the personal representative of that person. In general, the personal representative or the solicitor of the deceased person’s estate will contact my Department to arrange settlement of the outstanding overpayment. In every case the value of the estate is reduced by the funeral and legal expenses for which the estate is liable and recovery of the overpayment is then sought from the remaining assets. Where insufficient assets are available to repay the outstanding sums, my Department has powers to consider the write-off or write-down of the balance of the outstanding overpayment to reflect the circumstances.
Posthumous overruns of pension or other social welfare payments remain the property of my Department. Section 340 of the Act requires a financial institution to refund to my Department payments credited to the account of an intended beneficiary after date of death. On receipt of a written request from my Department, if the financial institution is unable to refund the full amount of the posthumous overpayment, the amount outstanding may be requested from the personal representatives of the deceased.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy. If he has a particular case in mind or if there are particular circumstances which he would like to bring to my attention, the matter can be fully investigated by my Department.