Ireland
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Welfare schemes for low-income farmers and carers top survey list for ‘irregular’ payments

The analysis of the surveys shows that an estimated 12.7 per cent of the farm assist expenditure could be irregular, according to a survey conducted in 2016

The farm assist means-tested payment for low-income farmers and the carer’s allowance are the social welfare schemes where the largest proportion of irregular payments are estimated to occur, according to the latest report from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CNAG).

The office looked at control surveys conducted by the Department of Social Protection over the years since 2014 and the estimated level of net excess payment these surveys found for the different schemes operated by the department.

With total expenditure of €24 billion in 2024, even low levels of payments in excess of what people are entitled to can amount to significant losses of public funds, the report said.

The analysis of the surveys shows that an estimated 12.7 per cent of the farm assist expenditure could be irregular, according to a survey conducted in 2016. The cost of the scheme in 2022 was €56 million.

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A 2018 survey of the carer’s allowance, where total expenditure was €993 million last year, estimated that 9.1 per cent of all expenditure could be irregular.

The next-highest estimates were for the jobseeker’s benefit and the jobseeker’s allowance schemes, where surveys in 2023 and 2022 estimated irregular payments could be 8 per cent and 7.9 per cent respectively. The total expenditure on the schemes last year was €475 million and €1.6 billion.

The schemes where the surveys indicated the lowest levels of irregular payments were the working family payment, the widow/widower/surviving civil partner contributory pension, child benefit and invalidity pension.

A survey this year of the disability allowance, which involved expenditure last year of €2 billion, showed an estimated level of irregular payment of 5.7 per cent.

During the years 2020 to 2022, the department’s ability to operate some of its normal controls was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the report said.

The controls were also impacted by the Ukrainian crisis, which saw some staff being reallocated to other duties.

Among the controls affected were notifications that staff used to get when a review was due of international protection applicants who are recipients of the daily expenses allowance given to people in direct provision.

“The department has stated that it is no longer possible to enforce the residential control in all locations due to the unprecedented increase in applicants for international protection arriving in 2022,” the report said. “However, reviews are undertaken locally where necessary.”

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent