Belfast Telegraph

600 inspectors track benefit cheats

Social welfare cheats will be tracked down by an army of 600 inspectors in a bid to save the exchequer 625 million euro next year.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton revealed a clampdown on fraudsters who abuse the system will involve getting investigators back on the streets to quiz claimants and rogue employers.

Higher penalties for people caught working in the black economy, more inter-agency co-operation and a new photographic card are also among the measures being introduced to catch cheats.

Ms Burton said social welfare fraud is often perceived as a victimless crime but undermines public confidence.

"You need to target the areas that are most at risk and you need to send out a message that fraud is taken absolutely seriously in this country, that is is not tolerated," said Ms Burton.

"There is no such thing as an acceptable level of fraud. Any euro of fraud taken out of this department is at the cost of somebody like an old age pensioner and that is not acceptable."

Some 1.4 million people receive a range of social welfare payments each week, including 600,000 families getting child benefit. The country's social welfare bill is 21 billion euro - 40% of Government expenditure.

Ms Burton said there had been no decision on whether payments would be slashed in the upcoming Budget. The minister revealed that as unemployment soared in recent years, inspectors were moved in to processing claims. They will now be back on the street visiting claimants at home, she said.

The fraud control plan aims to save 625 million euro in 2011, up 85 million euro on 2010.

It will involve sharing data with key agencies, including gardai, Revenue, the Taxi Regulator, HSE, the Prison Service and British customs officers. Elsewhere the new Public Service Card, that will feature a biometric photograph and signature of a claimant, will target fraudsters claiming on multiple identities.

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