LESS than seven per cent of Fermanagh benefit claimants accused of cheating the welfare system have been convicted of benefit fraud, it can be revealed.
Recent figures show that while 473 people in Fermanagh were questioned by welfare fraud investigators in the last four years, just 32 people were convicted of the offence during the same time period.
People working while in receipt of benefits topped the list of allegations with some 189 people reported to authorities. This is when an individual is claiming benefits and is working but has not declared the employment, meaning they may not be entitled to benefits.
Other complaints included living together, disability in doubt and one occasion, an individual was suspected of dishonestly claiming benefits from prison.
Siobhan Peoples, manager of Fermanagh Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), stated that the low conviction rate was proof that fraud does not always occur in benefit fraud tip-offs.
She explained that Fermanagh has one of the lowest tip-off rates in the North.
“Out of 26 councils areas, people living in the Fermanagh District Council area are the sixth least likeliest to be accused of benefit fraud and the least likeliest when you look at the ratio of the county’s population to the total population of Co Fermanagh,” she added.
“Figures show that out of 29,682 benefit fraud tip-offs (in the North), 473 or 1.6 percent were in regard to people living in Fermanagh.”
She stated that Fermanagh CAB assist people who are being pursued by Debt Centre NI in regard to alleged overpayments of benefits and added that this does not always indicate the person is guilty of benefit fraud.
“Overpayments can occur for very genuine reasons.
“One of the most common scenarios is when a member of the public does not realise they should have notified the Social Security Agency (SSA) that they are receiving an occupational pension. Advising/representing clients accused of alleged fraud/overpayment of benefits represents less than 0.5% of the work carried out by Fermanagh CAB.
“One of the most recent cases Fermanagh CAB dealt with was in regard to a retired male client who received a letter from Debt Centre NI alleging that he had been overpaid £13,845 of Pension Credit due to his failure to notify a change in circumstances.
“Fermanagh CAB assisted him to appeal this decision. The Pensions Service examined all of the information that Fermanagh CAB supplied in the client’s appeal, and realised that they had made a mistake.
“The overpayment of £13,845 was reduced to £604, and Pensions Service acknowledged they made an error.”
The highest amount an individual has been accused of dishonestly claiming locally was £64,685 while the lowest was £65.
The Social Security Agency, which is run by the Department for Social Development, received 135 complaints over people who failed to tell authorities about their current living arrangements.
Four local people were accused of receiving benefits as a carer but were not caring for a disabled person.
Benefit cheat figures were released following the on-going dispute between political parties in the Executive over introducing government welfare reforms in the North.
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