I propose to take Questions Nos. 528 to 530, inclusive, together.
Overpayments of social welfare assistance and benefit payments arise as a consequence of decisions made under the relevant sections of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005 (as amended). Where an overpayment is raised, my Department is obligated to make every effort to recover sums overpaid.
The balance of any debts arising on any scheme outstanding at the time of death of a debtor can be recovered from the deceased debtor’s estate. A debt may also arise during the settlement of a deceased customer’s estate where it is determined that the customer had not adequately declared their means during the time they were receiving a means-tested payment during their lifetime. If, subsequent to the death of a customer, it comes to light that not all of the deceased’s means were properly disclosed, the Department will seek to recover any monies overpaid from the estate of the deceased.
Under s.339 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005, as amended, the personal representative of a deceased person who was at any time in receipt of a means-tested payment is obliged to give notice to the Department of their intention to distribute the assets of the estate and to provide a schedule of the assets of the estate.
The Department issues a notification to the deceased's personal representative advising them of their obligations under law. If there is an estate to be distributed, a schedule of assets must be provided to the Department. The personal representative is instructed not to distribute the estate without formal clearance from the Department.
The statement of assets is examined to see if there are assets which were previously not declared to the Department by the deceased. In the event that there are none, the personal representative will be informed and can proceed to distribute the estate. A social welfare inspector may be tasked with making enquiries and to provide a report to support the assessment process.
If assets were previously not declared, the Department will calculate the value of any monies paid in excess of entitlements and seek the recovery of same before the estate is distributed. Any decisions made that the personal representative is dissatisfied with may be reviewed at their request. The personal representative has a right to appeal any decision made to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.
In seeking to recover an overpayment from the estate, the value of the estate is reduced by the (reasonable) funeral expenses for which the estate is liable and full recovery of the debt is sought from the remaining assets. In cases of insolvent estates, full recovery may not be possible.
When all monies have been recovered, a letter of clearance allowing the distribution of the estate will issue to the personal representative. In the event of failure to comply with the provisions of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005, as amended, or to make efforts to pay back the sums overpaid, the Department reserves a right to prosecute under the Act and/or to seek civil recovery through the Courts. Given the costs and time involved, the parties generally agree a negotiated resolution. Where there are no remaining assets in an estate, the outstanding balance that cannot be recovered may be written-off.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.