Dail Questions: Social Protection

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Minister Varadkar avoids a direct answer and instead indicates that over an undefined period only 21 cases can be identified as alleged identity fraud. There is no indication in this answer that anybody whatsoever engaged in dressing up in fake beards to make fraudulent social welfare claims. The Minister engaged in a childish, right wing, stunt to demean and undermine people who claim welfare, in his attempt to appear more right wing than his rival in a FG leadership farce.  It is truly pathetic.

 

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons reported and charged with making fraudulent claims for social protection payments by disguising their identity with beards or makeup; and the number of these alleged frauds that were reported to An Garda Síochána for each of the years 2014 to 2016.
– Clare Daly

R E P L Y
Minister for Social Protection (Leo Varadkar T.D.):

As part of the rollout of the Public Services Card (PSC), my Department introduced facial recognition software in March 2013 to support its efforts to combat identity fraud and impersonation. This software is used to ensure that multiple or fraudulent identities can be detected at the point where a person registers for a personal public services number (PPSN) or a PSC. The software utilises a biometric template of a human face digitised from a photograph. The system identifies a person by measuring certain structural features of their face and comparing these with other identity records maintained by the Department. Every new photograph captured by the PSC process is compared with all other photographs on the database. This ensures that an individual has not already been registered for a PSC using a different identity.
Where there is suspicion that a person has attempted to gain a PSC where a Card has already been issued to a person matching the same facial profile, the matter is referred to the Department’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to make further enquiries and to refer the matter to An Garda Síochána for investigation and prosecution under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, as appropriate.
The Deputies should note that as of 25 April 2017, 155 suspected cases of identify fraud have been referred to the SIU and/or An Garda Síochána. These cases are at various stages of investigation. Successful prosecutions have been finalised in court in 21 cases, with 18 people receiving custodial sentences.

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the cost to his department of the recently launched welfare fraud campaign including all costs for public advertising related to the campaign.
– Clare Daly
* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 2nd May, 2017.
R E P L Y
Minister for Social Protection (Leo Varadkar T.D):

The Department administers over 70 separate schemes and services, which affect the lives of almost every person in the State. In 2016, some 1.7 million applications for benefit, assistance and access to schemes were received and processed and over 82 million individual payments were made to people across all age groups and to employers. The scale of its operations and expenditure demand that a robust and integrated range of control and anti-fraud measures are in place. Measures to prevent and detect fraud and enhance controls across the Department’s various schemes are set out in the Compliance and Anti-Fraud Strategy which covers the period 2014 – 2018.
In 2016, the Department achieved overall savings of €506m as a result of control and anti-fraud measures. This reflects nearly 950,000 reviews of individual claims undertaken by the Department last year to determine on-going entitlements.
The “Welfare cheats cheat us all” publicity campaign is designed to:
· Promote discussion on the topic of social welfare fraud and challenge the perceptions of those who see it as a victimless crime;
· Encourage reporting of suspected/known social welfare fraud. The “direct marketing” element of the campaign appeals to the public to report fraud and makes is easier for them to do so. It also affords an opportunity to increase awareness of the Department’s fraud reporting contact numbers and online reporting options;
· Demonstrate that the Government and Department takes the issue of social welfare fraud very seriously and that it will investigate and prosecute, where this is found to be warranted; and
· Demonstrate that the Department is very conscious of its obligations, as one of the largest spending Departments in the State, and the importance of protecting the integrity of the social welfare system.

The delivery of the campaign will achieve a balance of coverage across all demographics and regions and incorporate print, national and regional radio stations, digital and outdoor advertising. The national and regional radio, print and outdoor advertising will run for a period of two weeks, with a longer timeframe of 4 to 6 weeks for digital/online advertising. The cost of the advertising campaign is €165,988 excluding VAT. It includes all design and advertising costs associated with the campaign (print advertising, national and regional radio advertising, outdoor and online/digital advertising). No additional costs arise in staff resources, website development or the provision of the telephone reporting facility.

The Department has set no specific savings targets for this campaign. An overall savings target of €510 million has been set for 2017 and additional reporting from members of the public will support the Department in achieving this target. Some 500 reports were received in the first week after I launched the campaign on 18th April. This represents more than double the number of reports received in the same week in 2016 and a 70% increase in the number received in the first week of April this year.

 

To ask the Minister for Social Protection his views on the way in which the ERIN recording system calculates data and its potential to record individual claims numerous times thereby misrepresenting the figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Clare Daly.

* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 2nd May, 2017.
R E P L Y

Minister for Social Protection (Leo Varadkar T.D):
The ERIN system in the Department is an integrated file tracking system that is used by staff in offices to pinpoint the location of a paper based case file at any given time, i.e. throughout its life cycle from creation to finalisation.
The system records and monitors the progress of the case file as it is assigned for action across the office network and to individual investigators.
When a case is assigned to an individual investigator, the officer assigns the case file to themselves on the ERIN system upon receipt of the paper file. When they have completed all necessary tasks associated with the case the officer closes their assignment and enters the onward destination in the Department where the case is being forwarded to for the next action. The paper file used would be transferred to the relevant office in parallel and the process repeated.
Given the use of the ERIN system for file tracking, the records included on it are reflective of the transactions that occur in the Department on the file journey that is required to process a case or claim.
The ERIN system is being phased out of operational use in the Department over the course of 2017 as use of paper based files is being discontinued.