Millions of pounds are being mistakenly handed over in pensions and benefits every year across Northern Ireland — to people who are dead.
Thousands of erroneous payments were identified by officials, according to figures released to this newspaper. The total outlay over the last five years tops £16m.
While some payments will be the result of oversight by bereaved families who have not notified authorities of a relative’s passing, it is understood a growing number are caused by deliberate fraud.
It comes just weeks after this newspaper revealed how £1.6m had been paid out to prisoners who had illegally claimed benefits while locked up in jail.
Matthew Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group said: “If so much has been wrongly paid out to the deceased no wonder it is so easy for some of the living to exploit our broken welfare system,” he said.
“We need a robust welfare system that helps those in need, protects taxpayers’ money and does not weigh down grieving family members with excess bureaucracy. Our current system is failing on all counts.”
Details of payments to dead people were released by the Department for Social Development after a Freedom of Information |
request from the Belfast Telegraph.
Between 2007/08 and 2011/12, £16.4m was paid out in cases where the recipient had passed away, including £2,713,000 in the last year alone.
Most cases — around 40% each year — relate to pensions. Hundreds of others related to attendance allowance, disability living allowance and pension credit.
A DSD spokesperson said there were mechanisms in place to recover overpayments.
In some cases, relatives set out to defraud the system by continuing to claim a pension or benefit after a death.
A number of people have also been prosecuted through the courts for deliberately claiming cash following a relative’s death.
A DSD spokeswoman said benefits were paid until a change of circumstances is reported.
“It is often the case that payments are made before families have had the opportunity to inform the agency of a death and are therefore unavoidable,” she said. “However, it is important to understand that these are not benefits that have been wrongly paid — they have been paid before notification has been received.
“A policy does exist to recover the money and there are mechanisms in place to do this.”
She said a new service has been established for relatives to cancel all claims with a single phone call.
2007/08: £3,549,136 in overpayments