Written Answers. - Social Welfare Fraud.

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

550 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Social Welfare his views on whether he has underestimated the extent of social welfare fraud; his Department's understanding of the level of abuse in this regard; the likely total cost of social welfare abuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16658/96]

Joe Walsh

Ceist:

559 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare the steps, if any, he has taken to accurately assess the performance of fraud control mechanisms within his Department since assuming office; when each such initiative was taken; the amount of resources which were allocated in this regard; the outcome of such an initiative; and the consequential administrative changes, if any, which were made. [17027/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 550 and 559 together.

Experience in Ireland and internationally shows that it is very difficult to estimate the overall level of social welfare fraud at any time. However, the levels of detected abuse with their resultant overpayments of benefit and underpayments of PRSI show that there is a continual level of abuse perpetrated by a minority of claimants and employers on the social welfare system. This can range from minor short-term irregularities to very serious deliberate fraud of the system.

The day-to-day management of new claims for payments and their subsequent review incorporates a developed structure of measures, tried and tested over many years, designed to prevent and to detect cases of abuse and fraud. These procedures and practices consist of general checking of applications and claims in payment, and targeted inspections of certain high-risk categories and groups of claimants.

The Department has always been aware of the need to control fraud and abuse of the social welfare system and such activity has always formed an integral part of its operations. Five hundred and seventy staff are engaged specifically on control activities and means-testing at local, regional and national levels. The estimated savings from these activities was of the order of £124 million in 1995 and up to the end of August this year we had identified £91 million. These various measures are reviewed and refined continuously to ensure that they remain effective and new approaches and measures are being constantly identified and adopted.

In view of the recent attention and concerns about the level of fraud and abuse in the unemployment payments area, I have received Government approval to introduce an enhanced programme of systematic controls to ensure that only those who are genuinely eligible receive unemployment payments. These measures are being put in place immediately.

I am determined to stamp out fraud and abuse of the social welfare system and to apply the full rigours of the law to those who defraud the system. This applies not just to fraudulent claimants but also to those employers who collude in such practices and those who do not pay the PRSI contributions which are legally due, or fail to comply with the requirement to notify the Department of Social Welfare of new employees.
In this context, I am having a more fundamental examination carried out of all control procedures and anti-abuse measures. It is my intention to seek expert assistance as necessary with this task. One of the areas that will be specifically examined will be a better assessment of the actual overall level of fraud and abuse which was last done in 1987.