A review of a sample of pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) claims paid out found that in nearly one in 10 cases the individual was not eligible for the Covid-19 payment, a report from the State’s auditor has said.
The Irish Times reports that in just under half of the cases reviewed where individuals were not eligible to claim the PUP, they had been receiving the payment while still working.
In a quarter of cases there was no evidence the PUP claimant had been working prior to the pandemic, and in another quarter of instances the PUP claimant appeared to have returned to work.
The report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), said almost €5 billion was paid out under the PUP scheme last year, which was introduced in the early weeks of the pandemic.
The report said evidence from a sample of claims reviewed found more than nine per cent “were not eligible for the PUP payment received on the date tested”.
The Department of Social Protection received 1.75 million applications for the pandemic payment between March 2020 and February 2021.
The report, published on Thursday, said more than half of all applications were received within the first five weeks of the scheme being opened.
The PUP was introduced for people who had lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the payment initially set at a flat rate of €350.
The C&AG report said the scheme was launched on an “emergency basis”, and therefore officials said controls “would not be as rigorous as that normally applied”.
The report said officials largely relied on people’s declarations that they had lost their job due to Covid-19, and that they resided in the State, when processing claims.
“The department did not attempt to verify the ‘genuinely seeking work’ aspect of PUP eligibility criteria in 2020 other than to establish a dedicated telephone line for reporting of such cases by employers,” the report said.
This tip line resulted in 2,500 reports from employers, which led to 400 claims being stopped.
The report said the department had identified €14.5 million in PUP overpayments by the end of August 2021, related to 4,300 claims.
The C&AG recommended the department should review PUP cases as people moved into employment, or onto other welfare schemes, “to ensure all overpayments are captured”.