LIMERICK is among the locations selected for a pilot scheme to crack down on social welfare fraud and involving the secondment of gardai to the Department of Social Protection.
The provision is contained in the social welfare bill currently going through the Oireachtas and would involve 20 gardai being assigned to the special investigations unit of the department, Minister Joan Burton said.
“The gardaí will be working closely...with other compliance and fraud investigation agencies to ensure social welfare abuse is comprehensively deterred and detected. They will participate in operations such as the joint investigation unit operations with Revenue, the taxi regulator and the National Employment Rights Agency, as well as multi-agency vehicle checks. This inter-agency activity is a key element to assist in fraud investigation, and the shadow or hidden economy will be a key priority,” Minister Burton told the Dail.
“In serious cases of identity fraud or multiple claiming of allowances, gardaí assigned to the department will be actively engaged in the detection and prosecution of such cases. There is also scope for them to be engaged in the investigation of cases at ports and airports to deal with what is termed welfare tourism.”
Over 200 applications from gardai had to date been received expressing an interest in getting involved in the 12-month pilot scheme.
During the same debate, Limerick’s Deputy Willie O’Dea appealed to social welfare officers to use be “measured” in applying new powers to recover lump sums (from other state funds) from people who have been overpaid by the department rather than seeking to have outstanding monies repaid in instalments.
He stressed he was not concerned about fraudsters but people “who, on the basis of a mistake on their own part or the part of the department, find themselves owing money to the department”.