Ireland now inherits a new Taoiseach and the Fine Gael party a new head on boring-old-shoulders, existing Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar
“My systemic examination of social welfare processes for recovering overpayments is continuing in 2017...” — Irish Ombudsman Peter Tyndall
Ireland now inherits a new Taoiseach and the Fine Gael party a new head on boring-old-shoulders, existing Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar just securing his place in the leadership contest, despite his lack of support (a mere 35%) among rank-and file Fine Gaelers…
As minister-for-poverty in one of the richest countries in the World (or at least one of the most indebted) Minister Varadkar achieved fame in the run up to the Leadership context with his April 2017 Campaign against welfare recipients and the unemployed: ‘Welfare cheats cheat us all“.
“Nothing upsets people more than someone else cheating the system at their expense. That’s why we are launching a new campaign to encourage members of the public to report suspected or known cases of welfare fraud…” the Minister told us…coyly.
Now as he tries his new crown on for size he will probably be able to ignore the recent report from the Irish Ombudsman, who deals with complaints from frustrated Irish citizens “about how they have been treated by public bodies in Ireland. The Ombudsman can examine decisions, refusals to take action and administrative procedures of public bodies.”
With no axes-to-grind on behalf of a government – apparently horrified at the thought of a few dole recipients doing “nixers” and possibly claiming a paltry 42 million euros (possibly – ? – or is it €500 million?) in benefits while fighting an extended battle to return €13 billion in tax to the-not-strapped-for-cash Apple Corporation (only this May, Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s Competition Commissioner, pointed out that Ireland was taking too long to recover the €13 billion in back-taxes owed by Apple!) – the Ombudsman’s findings add a new dimension to the campaign to isolate the cheating citizens currently being stalked by the Department of Social Protection (‘Helping You Build A Better Life’):
“During 2015 and 2016, I noticed an increase in the number of complaints to my Office from people who had been, or who were currently, in receipt of social welfare payments and who had received notice from the Department of Social Protection that they had been overpaid. The Department was demanding repayment from them.
The periods during which the overpayments accrued ranged from relatively recently to over 20 years ago. The amounts also ranged from €1,000 to over €100,000.
An examination of these complaints raised significant concerns so I decided to initiate a systemic examination of the Department’s processes in raising and collecting overpayment debts from claimants.
My Office examined local overpayment files held in two Dublin Intreo Offices. In October 2016, I sent a report of our findings to the Department for its consideration and response.
During 2016, my Office examined other individual complaints received from overpaid social welfare claimants. A total of 55 overpayment complaints have been examined. 25 have been finalised and closed. Of those closed, I upheld 15 (60%) and the overpayments were written off by the Department.” Ombudsman Peter Tyndall
One significant case study by the Ombudsman showed how one woman, who was told she owed the Department of Social Protection €19,900.00 ended up receiving a €700 refund from the department:
“A woman complained to the Ombudsman after she wrote to the local office of the Department of Social Protection and failed to receive a response. The woman had received correspondence from her local office saying that an overpayment of €19,900 had been made to her. The woman was unaware of how this debt arose and had written to the Department for an explanation.
The Ombudsman contacted the Department’s local office and asked it to respond to the woman’s correspondence. While responding to the Ombudsman the Department also reviewed the woman’s social welfare payments. It discovered that her application had not been processed correctly. The woman’s income had been recalculated a number of times resulting in different outcomes, while in considering her husband’s income the Department had failed to take account of an illness that reduced his income.
Following the review, Department discovered that not only had there been no overpayment but that the woman was entitled to a refund of approximately € 700.”
Of course the heavy hand and the incompetence of a tight-fisted Government’s bureaucracy is surely not a concern for the new Leadership of this probably-almost-worn-out-party and this newly resurgent nation. Like witches rubbing their hands around a pot of boiling toads it appears that those in power are now rubbing their hands together at the soon-to be realised profits from the upcoming housing explosion or the next bankers’ revolution or some other waiting-in-the-wings Ponzi get-rich-fast scheme…
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall:
“The Department of Social Protection has strong powers of recovery in the case of overpayments made to social welfare claimants. In my discussions with the Department, among other things, I placed an emphasis on:
- ‘Poverty proofing’ – to ensure that the rate of overpayment recovery does not cause undue hardship for claimants
- Minimum standard of documentation – all documentation pertinent to the identification and raising of an overpayment debt must be maintained
- Right of appeal – claimants should have the right to challenge every aspect of the debt recovery process through the appeals framework.”
Lao-Tzu (6th century BCE, possibly) in his Tao Te Ching made a comment on rulers that the new regime may do well to reflect on, though as citizens in this age-of-the-end-of-politics we know not to be too hopeful:
“The supreme rulers are hardly known by their subjects.
The lesser are loved and praised.
The even lesser are feared.
The least are despised.
Those who show no trust will not be trusted.
Those who are quiet value the words.
When their task is completed, people will say:
We did it ourselves.”
[Tao Te Ching chapter 17]
Annual Report of the Office of the Ombudsman to the Dáil and Seanad pursuant to the provisions of Section 6(7) of the Ombudsman Act 1980 (as amended). https://www.ombudsman.ie/en/Publications/Annual-Reports/2016-Annual-Report/index.html