Monday, January 23, 2012

Property windfall pensioners targeted by Revenue -

PENSIONERS who come into property windfalls but fail to notify authorities are being targeted as part of a new benefits crackdown.

The probe, which was made possible as a result of increased sharing of data between the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners, is part of a wider operation to identify benefits cheats.

The development comes in the wake of the furore over moves by the Revenue Commissioners to pursue 150,000 pensioners who may have underpaid tax.

The Irish Independent has learned that the department has carried out a new matching exercise using shared data.

Social protection officials are accessing the names of people on non-contributory pensions who paid capital acquisitions tax to the Revenue Commissioners on property they received from a family member.

People in receipt of welfare payments are required to report such property windfalls. This allows officials to reassess their payments in the light of their improved financial means.

Around one million tax records dating back to 2007 were examined as part of the probe, bringing to light 40,000 people who receive some form of social welfare payment.

Department officials began working their way through these cases in recent weeks and are at an early stage in the investigation.

So far, €386,634 has been saved by axing or reducing the social welfare benefits of people who failed to report their changed circumstances.

This is made up of €134,572 which was recovered directly from overpayments to the pensioners who failed to notify officials of the property income.

Another €252,062 was generated in 'control savings', which estimate the value of what would have been spent had these incidents not been uncovered.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Protection said: "In a small number of cases, the department has been notified of the property transfers which would have affected their payment rate.

"In those cases, their means were reassessed and claims reduced or terminated as appropriate."

The department is also using Revenue data to identify people receiving a one-parent family payment but who are actually living with a partner.

This had been made possible by obtaining data from Revenue of people getting mortgage interest relief.

This information is then compared with records of people receiving the one-parent family payment.

If two recipients are linked to the same mortgage, inspectors are able to investigate whether they are living apart, as they claim to be.

So far, concerns have been raised in about 850 cases and 90 of these are under review.

A spokesman said the "renewed focus" was due to improved computer systems.

Prosecutions will be considered in cases where a person has been working and claiming social welfare for 12 weeks or more, and the overpayment is higher than €2,000.

- Eilish O'Regan

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