Sunday, February 20, 2011

FG target €1bn saving in welfare fraud crackdown

A core objective of Fine Gael’s Five Point Plan to Get Ireland Working is to create a smaller, more efficient and better public sector, Fine Gael Meath East Candidate Regina Doherty said today (Saturday).

“Fine Gael believe we can double the outgoing government’s existing target for fraud of €500 million, by introducing a range of targeted new policies. In the same way that Fine Gael has declared ‘all-out’ war on white collar crime and rogue bankers, we will target welfare fraud and secure savings of €1 billion by year three of a new government,” Cllr. Doherty said.

Among the measures planned is the creation of a single Payments and Entitlements Service (PES), along the lines of the very successful Australian ‘Centrelink’ scheme, that will merge or rationalise the existing 20 Government bodies which process welfare payments to the public.

Cllr. Doherty said: ‘Fine Gael has a new solution to tackle social welfare fraud and make the system much more efficient. Fine Gael will create a new ‘one-stop shop’ Payments and Entitlements Service (PES) to process citizen entitlements’.

“The PES will use international best practices to cut down on fraud and mistakes. It will introduce:

• A ‘Smart Identity System’: We will pilot new control systems which store a photograph of the owner of each PPS number on a secure central database accessible by social welfare staff. The photograph confirms the identity of the claimant before the payment is processed;
• Risk Based Enforcement: We will adopt sophisticated risk identification techniques, such as using information from credit rating agencies, to detect fraud and errors;
• A ‘Rights and Obligations Campaign’: We will pilot public information campaigns which emphasise the rights and obligations of claimants, but which warn of the consequences of defrauding the system. This approach has been shown to cut fraud among high risk groups in other countries;
• A National Fraud Helpline: We will establish a national fraud helpline and undertake a long-term publicity campaign to change people’s attitudes about the acceptability of fraud;
• Penalties and Prosecutions: We will introduce new powers to withdraw or reduce benefit for people convicted twice of a benefit offence, and the power to target employers who collude in welfare fraud.

“Entitlements are currently processed by more than 20 different government bodies. This is extremely inconvenient, confusing for the applicant, a huge waste of taxpayers’ money, and results in vast amounts of fraud and error.

“The new ‘One Stop Shop’ will begin processing supplementary welfare allowances managed by Community Welfare Officers in the HSE (mortgage interest supplement, rent supplement, back to school schemes); medical card applications administered by the HSE; higher education grants administered by local authorities; housing supports administered by local authorities; legal aid services administered by the Legal Aid Board; welfare allowances administered by the Department of Social Protection; and employment referral and training supports provided by FÁS and many more."

“RTE’s Prime Time Investigates programme in December 2009 estimated that between one in ten and one in seven social welfare payments could be fraudulent, costing the taxpayer between €2.2 billion and €3 billion per year. We have to stop this.

“At best, therefore, there is a 90% accuracy rate on social welfare payments in Ireland. By setting up Centrelink, Australia managed to increased accuracy to 95%. If Ireland could achieve similar levels of accuracy, we could achieve €1 billion in fraud savings.

“Fine Gael is determined to slash the waste in the system so that we can keep taxes as low as possible and support jobs. One way to do this is to go to war on welfare fraud. We are convinced that €1 billion can be saved by year three of this campaign. That type of saving will go a long way to protecting payments to the most vulnerable, and allow us to keep income tax rates at the levels they are today.”

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