The Department of Social Protection has taken a further step to crack down on social welfare cheats in Galway. A member of the Gardai has been seconded into the Department’s Special Investigations Unit and will take specific responsibility for preventing welfare fraud in the city and county.
The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, announced earlier this year that gardai from 20 locations across the country including Galway will be seconded by her Department.
In a statement released to the Galway Advertiser it was revealed that the Galway garda has taken up duties this week. It is envisaged that the secondment of the garda to the Special Investigations Unit will be for a period of 12 months. Seconded personnel will undertake the full range of investigative duties in detecting and combating social welfare fraud.
They will retain their powers as gardaí for the duration and have powers under the Social Welfare Acts to enable them to work with officers from the SIU and perform all relevant social welfare fraud investigation duties.
The exclusive function of the SIU is to investigate and report on fraud and abuse of social welfare schemes. One of its main priorities is to ensure there is a targeted response to high risk sectors and welfare schemes where fraud and abuse is prevalent.
The primary focus of the garda’s work will be to be to ensure that social welfare abuse is comprehensively detected and deterred by probing allegations and initiating investigations into welfare fraud in the Galway region. Gardai will be involved in manning checkpoints to spot welfare claimants who are on their way to paid work but not declaring it. Another aspect of the duties is manning airports to pinpoint welfare tourists who are claiming in this country but living elsewhere.
The Department of Social Protection has an enormous budget of nearly €20 billion. Welfare fraud continues to be a major problem in this country and it is estimated the cost to the Exchequer runs into hundreds of millions of euro per year. It is believed that the Department of Social Protection SIU has generated fraud and control savings of €64.5 million to date this year, of which €23 million is recoverable overpayments.
This is an area that clearly irks members of the public. Since the economic downturn, the number of anonymous reports of welfare fraud made to the Department has increased threefold. In 2013, the Department received more than 24,000 tip offs from members of the public and by the end of October this year, more than 16,000 allegations were made.
A person can report suspected welfare fraud anonymously by completing a form at www.welfare.ie