The Department of Social Protection has responded to claims people residing outside the country are fraudulently receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
The department was replying to Radio Kerry’s query on the bona fides of those receiving the welfare payment, following reports some Irish people in Australia applied for – and are benefiting from – the €350 per week payment.
How did this come about?
I contacted the Department of Social Protection in recent days in relation to who are receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
It says when the full extent and scale of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent in mid-March, the focus of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection was to develop a scheme that would ensure that those people who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic would receive an income support as quickly as possible.
The department says the scheme needed to provide an income to all those who lost employment, on foot of important public health measures, in as short a period as possible. This payment would assist the public to adhere to the public health measures.
The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) Scheme was put in place and there are currently 585,000 recipients of the €350 per week payment.
The conditions of the scheme include requiring an individual to be in employment on or before 13th March, to now be fully unemployed, not be in receipt of any income from employment and to be living in the state.
We can understand the urgent need for the scheme as it was a national crisis. When the scheme opened, what kind of checks did the department do to ensure those applying for it were eligible?
The Department of Social Protection says, as with all schemes, there is a balance to be struck between what’s called an ‘ex ante’ checking of every claim in fine detail to absolutely verify its validity and ‘ex post’ validation of claims.
The former – the ‘ex ante’ - is the prediction of a particular event in the future. Ex-ante predictions are often inaccurate since it is impossible to account for variables.
On the other hand, ‘ex-post’ means after the event – it’s backward-looking and it looks at results after they have already occurred.
The department says the ‘ex-ante’ process is very time consuming and would result in long payment delays, especially with the number of applications that the department has processed since the inception of the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. For example, it says its workload over the course of one month equated to a 20-month claim load.
The department says it conducts both types of checks on all its schemes, including the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, to prevent fraud and error from entering the social welfare system in the first instance and, where it does, to detect instances as quickly as possible.
However, in this instance, there were nearly 600,000 recipients.
In recent days, we’re received reports here in Radio Kerry that some people benefitting from this scheme may not be entitled to it. Can you tell us more?
Just for a recap, there are a number of conditions before you can receive this payment: these include requiring an individual to be in employment on or before 13th March, to now be fully unemployed, not be in receipt of any income from employment and to be living in the state.
So, in recent days, Radio Kerry received reports that some Irish citizens residing outside the country applied for – and received – the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
It’s understood this occurred due to the department’s urge for people to apply online and not in person.
These people, it’s alleged, used their PPS numbers which they would have been given when they first registered to work here in Ireland.
There is anecdotal evidence that a number of people who are from Kerry but residing overseas are among those who benefitted from the department’s haste in setting up the scheme.
You put this allegation to the department. What was their response?
The Department of Social Protection says it conducted the two types of checks outlined above, the thorough pre-check and post-check.
It says it’s now conducting ongoing control checks to identify individuals who are not entitled to receive the payment, including those who may have left the state at some point.
In addition, the department’s inspection staff also work with Revenue, Customs and An Garda Síochana at ports and airports to identify people who are now leaving the state who may be in receipt of a payment.
It says individuals found to be leaving the country in these circumstances will have their payment stopped.
I believe the department also said it accepts information from the public in relation to fraudulent claims.
The Central Control Section of the Department of Social Protection accepts reports of possible fraud offered by members of the public in relation to all of the department’s schemes and examines each of these reports.
Details on how to report fraud are available on its website.
Reports are accepted online, by phone or in writing.
It says all reports are dealt with in confidence and a member of the public may give details anonymously.
Eamonn Hickson - May 2020
From department website
Report Suspected Social Welfare Fraud
Central Control Division, Shannon Lodge, Carrick-on-Shannon
1890 927 999 and select option 4. (01) 704 3000 and ask for Central Control Section. (Note: the rates charged for using 1890 (Lo-call) numbers may vary)