More than €46 million was overpaid or wrongly claimed in pandemic unemployment payments (PUP) during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In figures released to RTÉ Radio’s This Week programme, the Department of Social Protection said just over 18,700 PUP overpayments were recorded up to the end of July.
The Government is now seeking the return of almost €34 million that was wrongly claimed, with €12.6 million repaid to date.
Denis Naughten, Independent TD and chairman of the Oireachtas committee on social protection, said 870,000 people had claimed the PUP and those who received an overpayment represented about 2 per cent of all claims, which was “low”.
Mr Naughten told RTÉ programme that a small number of fraud cases were being investigated but that in the majority of cases people who had returned to work believed the Department of Social Protection would be aware of this and would stop the payment.
“That of course is not the case. The technology is not there to do that at present. That’s how the vast bulk of these genuine cases went into arrears or overpayment,” he said.
The Roscommon-Galway TD said the overpayment highlighted “far broader issues” in terms of the management and review of social welfare claims.
Mr Naughten said the department paid out about €110 million in overpayments each year and “then has to try and seek the recovery of that”. He cited the example of one claimant who had to pay back €47,875 at a rate of €31.20 a week, which would take them 29 years.
Mr Naughten said the best way to ensure people did not end up in such arrears was to carry out regular reviews and that the Oireachtas committee had made a recommendation to the department that it needed to “carry out far more reviews of applications”.
In a statement to RTÉ, the department said it continued to make efforts to recover all outstanding overpayments.
“Where we find suspected fraudulent claiming, we pursue those who offend to ensure the funds are returned and the most severe cases are brought to the attention of the courts,” it said.