The Comptroller and Auditor General has said that the available evidence points to "a material incidence" of payments in excess of entitlements of claimants under many welfare schemes.

Today's annual report said this has been confirmed by the level of irregular payments found by the Department's most recent control surveys.

It said that the Department made changes to the control regime following the publication early in 2021 of control surveys on the jobseeker’s allowance scheme and one-parent family payment. The report said that the levels of irregular payment identified on both surveys is high.

It said that the Department will need to review the impact of proposed changes to the control environment in order to ensure that the risk of excess payment has been reduced.

The Department of Social Protection gross expenditure in 2020 totalled €31.3 billion.

The Department funded expenditure totalling €9.1 billion in 2020 for four new schemes introduced to provide supports to people whose income was adversely affected by restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

From 2013 to 2019, the Department incurred expenditure of approximately €20 billion each year, under about 80 schemes and programmes.

It said that the level of expenditure incurred each year by the Department means that even a small incidence of error and suspected fraud can result in a large monetary loss to the Exchequer.

The report said that Covid-19 impacted the Department’s ability to operate some of its normal controls over its schemes when processing new applications, or to conduct other control activities for claims in payment.

As a result, certain scheme controls were suspended or curtailed for a period.

It said that the Department acknowledged that the risk of irregular payment increased as a result, but considered the effect on scheme expenditure to be minimal.

It says that normal controls should be restored as soon as possible, starting with those in high value schemes.

The report finds that an examination of a sample of PUP claims provides an indication that the level of irregular payment for that scheme in 2020 is likely to have been material.

At the end of July 2021, subsidies totalling €311 million, 11% of the TWSS total outlay, had been identified by Revenue as repayable, of which €18 million was outstanding for recovery.

A review of the enhanced illness benefit scheme found that the required recent PRSI contribution history of claimants was not checked before the claims were put into payment, giving rise to the risk of irregular payment where claimants did not meet the eligibility conditions.

The Department has stated that it will conduct an analysis of a number of high-risk customers on EIB, to confirm their eligibility.