I launched the Department's new compliance and anti-fraud strategy last week, covering the years 2019 to 2023. While it is acknowledged that the vast majority of people on social welfare are claiming the correct entitlement due to them, my Department has a duty to ensure that non-compliance in the social welfare system is minimised so that resources we have just spoken about can be directed to those who need them most.
The strategy sets out how my Department will tackle welfare non-compliance during the period in question and it builds upon the successes of the previous strategy, which ran from 2014 to 2018. The new strategy comprises four pillars: “Prevent”, “Deter”, “Detect” and “Account”. My Department's objectives under each of these pillars are as follows: to prevent error or non-compliance entering the system in the first instance - which does happen, as we recognise - by having in place robust scheme application channels and clearly defined assessment processes to try to reduce some of the errors that are made, either by the humans in the Department or the humans we are interacting with; to discourage attempts to defraud the social welfare system by actively pursuing the recovery of overpayments that have taken place and considering cases for prosecution where there has been a deliberate attempt to defraud the State; to detect instances of fraud and error in the social welfare system as quickly as possible through various control measures and techniques; and to protect moneys entrusted by the taxpayer and authorised by the Oireachtas through appropriate governance procedures, oversight and monitoring. It is underpinned by a comprehensive implementation plan, which outlines how we intend to achieve our objectives. Of course, we must remain alert to new and emerging forms of fraud, so our approach will remain flexible and dynamic in terms of how it is structured.
An important new initiative relates to the need to tackle false self-employment, which is contributing to a drain on the Social Insurance Fund and the denial of employment rights to affected workers. My Department is establishing a new unit of social welfare inspectors which will be focused solely on false self-employment, as opposed to the entire team of inspectors being involved in all inspection cases. As part of the new strategy, the Department plans to conduct over 750,000 reviews of social welfare claims over the course of this year and 2020. This represents an increase on the 742,000 reviews conducted last year. The target for savings resulting from these reviews in 2019 is €530 million.
Control reviews take place across the range of schemes operated by the Department and can take a variety of forms. They include desk-based assessments of customer claims, face-to-face interviews with customers by trained investigators, home visits, audits of employers’ PRSI records, specialist investigations, self-declarations by customers and joint inquiries and operations with other State agencies, including Revenue and CAB. Reviews looking at the medical conditionality underpinning certain schemes are also undertaken to try to help ease processing.
Reviews arise from both targeted and random case selections and where specific information comes to the attention of the Department. In this context, it should be noted that customers are under a legal obligation to report any change in their circumstances, including income or means, to the Department and such notifications may also trigger a review of a person's entitlement. These reviews, and the other activities described in the strategy, form part of the control work which is a core function of all officers of the Department. For this reason, while the Deputy asked for a costing, the cost of the work under the strategy cannot be disaggregated from overall departmental expenditure and functions. It is my genuine hope that this strategy will give strong assurances to Irish society generally that the system of control we operate is robust and effective. I hope this clarifies the three matters raised by the Deputies.