Dáil Éireann - Volume 675 - 17 February, 2009

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Deputy Noel O’Flynn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of PPS numbers issued by her Department to non-EU nationals in 2008 and in January 2009; the countries the applicants reside in; the reason for issuing the PPS numbers; the number of PPS numbers in total issued to non-EU nationals; the number which are active in the State and the country of origin of the holder of the PPS number; the number of people here who are non-EU nationals receiving unemployment benefit and other benefits; the cost of the benefits in each category; the number of non-Irish citizens, but who are EU citizens receiving unemployment benefits and other benefits and the cost to the State in 2008; the policy in respect of paying these benefits; if she is proposing to introduce new rules to require people to sign on more frequently; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that EU nationals claim benefits here and return to their own countries to work and sign on here, once a month to claim benefits; the enforcement methods and checks in place to detect fraudulent claims by EU [210] nationals claiming benefits here, but no longer residing in the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5063/09]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: A total of 441,168 PPS numbers were issued to non-EU nationals from mid-June 2000 to end of January 2009 of which 37,195 issued in 2008 and 2,533 were issued in January 2009. The majority of applications for a PPS numbers are from people living in the State. A small number of PPS numbers are issued to people residing outside the State. These numbers are issued mainly, to people applying for a pension based on their Irish insurance contributions and for testate cases.

Applicants for PPS numbers are required to specify the reason the number is required but statistics of the various reasons are not maintained. PPS numbers are issued for a variety of reasons including to take up employment, to access social welfare and other Government services, to open a bank account, and to apply for driver theory testing and driver licences. Due to the extent of use of the PPS number in the State, it is not be possible to establish the numbers that are active at any given time.

Under the provisions of the Social Welfare Acts nationality in itself is not a determining factor in deciding entitlement to schemes and services. Social Welfare payments are made on a contingency basis, for example, a person must be unemployed to qualify for jobseeker’s payment or have reached age 66 to qualify for state pension. When a person makes a claim, their circumstances are examined by a deciding officer to determine whether they satisfy the qualifying conditions for the particular scheme. To qualify for a jobseekers payment, a person must be legally resident in the State; must not place any restrictions on taking up employment and must satisfy the conditionality attached to the scheme.

In addition, with effect from 1 May 2004, the requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for all applicants for social assistance schemes and child benefit. The restriction is not based on citizenship, nationality, or immigration status. In order to determine if an applicant is habitually resident in Ireland the following factors are taken into account;

length and continuity of residence in Ireland or in any other particular country

length and purpose of any absence from Ireland

nature and pattern of employment

applicant’s main centre of interest and

future intentions of the applicant.

In the case of EU nationals, any application for one of the Department’s schemes is first examined under domestic legislation and where necessary, EU legislation is invoked under EU Council Regulations 1408/71 and 574/72. These Regulations co-ordinate social security systems and are designed to ensure that people are not disadvantaged by moving within the EU to take up work. This is achieved primarily by setting out rules to determine to which State the person will pay a social insurance contribution and which State will pay benefit in the event of the usual contingencies arising from sickness, unemployment, old-age etc. For example, under these regulations Irish and EU people are entitled to transfer their jobseekers benefit to another EU county for a maximum period of 78 days.

[211] With the exception of the jobseeker payments the Department does not maintain statistics on the nationality of recipients. Similarly, the Department does not maintain statistics on the cost of social welfare payments made to non-Irish nationals.

Details in respect of the number of non-Irish jobseeker recipients on the live register at the end of December 2008 and the end of January 2009 are as follows:

December 2008

January 2009

Groupings

Jobseekers Allowance

Jobseekers Benefit

Jobseekers Allowance

Jobseekers Benefit

Non-EU Nationals

6,096

2,919

6,507

3,543

EU Nationals

18,828

26,612

22,152

32,132

With regard to the question of control, the prevention of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system is an integral part of the day to day work of the Department and systematic risk analysis is a key element of the Control Strategy.

In late 2007, the Department identified a number of cases where non-Irish nationals were living in their native country and returning to Ireland on a monthly basis to sign for jobseekers payments. Arising from this, the Department undertook a number of small scale residency checks on non-Irish nationals in receipt of jobseekers payment. Between October 2007 and February 2008 some 766 cases were investigated, of which 76 yielded savings of almost €760,000. In response to the findings of these initial checks, it was considered that a more targeted control approach to residency was required. From 26 February 2008, nationwide residency checks were introduced for non-Irish nationals on a jobseekers payment. This measure involved a home visit within 6 weeks of the first signing day and again between 6 to 8 months and at 12 months. The frequency of the visits was varied so as not to establish a predictable pattern. Throughout 2008 some 3,665 such residency checks were carried out, 403 of which yielded savings totalling of almost €3.3m.

In view of the level of high risk identified, the Department decided in July 2008 not to make payment by electronic fund transfer to bank accounts available to all new jobseeker applicants, for the first six months of their claim. Instead, they are required to collect their payment weekly at a post office. Each weekly payment at a post office is available only for a limited period and if not collected within a matter of a few days it reverts to the Department. In such situations, the person is required to attend at the local social welfare office to have their payment reinstated.

The Department has no plans at present to alter signing arrangements for recipients of jobseeker payments. It should be noted however, that certain recipients are required to sign more frequently where the circumstances so warrant.

In addition to jobseekers checks, EU nationals employed in Ireland and in receipt of child benefit for non resident children under EU regulations are contacted on a 3 monthly basis to confirm they are still employed in the state or in receipt of a qualifying social welfare benefit. If their employment or benefit has stopped or no reply is received to the letter within 21 days, further child benefit payments are automatically suspended.

Controls are exercised at both the initial claim stage and at subsequent stages during the claim life cycle. Claims are reviewed on a regular and targeted basis. During 2008, some 564,000 reviews of entitlements were carried out by staff in this Department. The records of some 3,200 employers were inspected to ensure compliance with the Department’s regulations and in particular to prevent and detect abuses of the system. The Department also undertook [212] inspections on employers in conjunction with officials from the Revenue Commissioners and more recently with officials from the National Employment Rights Authority.

The Department is committed to ensuring that social welfare payments are available to those who are entitled to them and to ensure that abuse of the system is prevented and is dealt with effectively when detected. In this regard, the control programme is carefully monitored and the various measures are continuously refined to ensure that they remain effective.