More than 1,400 people have had their social welfare payments reduced in the first six months of this year for failing to engage with the Department of Social Protection on back to work initiatives.

This was slightly greater than the number of people who had their welfare payments reduced over the entire 12 months of 2012, according to Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today With Pat Kenny, Ms Burton said: "If they fail to answer letters and we send them out a couple of reminders, we cut them off. They show up pretty quickly after that.

"It's not pleasant but this is serious stuff," she said.

The minister also said the Government was in the process of establishing a public employment service similar to ones that exist in Germany and Austria.

She said she hoped to interview all long-term unemployed through the service.

The process involves inviting people to take part in a group meeting with social welfare staff ahead of individual tailored meetings with local employment service staff to discuss possible retraining and other back to work initiatives.

She said those who fail to engage with the process would face cuts in their payments.