The Citizens Information Service has revealed that in the past 18 months, it has helped 87 clients to persuade the Department of Social Protection to write-off over €1.5 million worth of alleged overpayments.

The revelation to RTÉ News follows a report from the Ombudsman that he upheld almost half the complaints he received in recent years about the Department's pursuit of overpayments it claimed to have made to members of the public. 

Peter Tyndall found that some overpayments, which had been made through no fault of the recipient, had only been notified to the client years after they had been discovered.

Following today's publication of the Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall's report which showed that he upheld 45% of the 108 complaints from social welfare clients on alleged overpayments since 2015, a CIS spokesperson told RTÉ News that in 2018 it had assisted 59 clients in having slightly less than €900,000 worth of social welfare over-payments written off.

It added that in the first half of this year a further 28 clients were helped to get over €600,000 worth of write-offs.

A senior CIS source said that the largest case she was aware of involved a woman who had claimed Lone Parents' Allowance for seven years but was then informed by the Department of Social Protection that she owed it €67,000 because, it said, she had been living with her partner for the entire period.

After the woman approached her local CIS service, it helped to establish that the living together period lasted just six months and the bill was reduced to just under €5,000, a saving of over €62,000 for the woman concerned.

The CIS source said it does not support fraudulant claims which fall outside the legislation and departmental guidelines.

However, she added that if there is merit to the case presented by the complainant, the service will work on his or her behalf while also working with the Department to find a resolution.

She said that the 105 cases which were brought by clients to the Ombudsman between 2015 and 2018 were "quite intractable".

To qualify for consideration by the Ombudsman, a complainant must first exhaust all internal Departmental appeals processes.

Mr Tyndall's report published today states that after upholding 45% of the complaints, he launched a further investigation, deploying staff to a number of Social Protection offices.

When they examined files separate from those the Ombudsman had got complaints about, Mr Tyndall said it became obvious that the way the matter was being dealt with varied from decision-maker to decision-maker.

He told the Morning Ireland programme that it became obvious to his office that the department's guidance to its staff was not clear enough. This resulted in social welfare decision-makers working to different sets of rules.

Mr Tyndall found cases where, through no fault of the recipients, overpayments had been made but the department had little or no documentary evidence of them.

In one case, a man applied for an Invalidity Pension and was told that some16 years earlier he had racked up a debt of €17,000 when he was paid more Jobseeker's Allowance than he was due over a two-year period. He had received no previous notification of the matter.

The complainant submitted a Freedom of Information request for his file, only to be told it had been destroyed. The Department told the Ombudsman it had agreed to write-off that overpayment.

The Ombudsman also found that deductions had be docked from inappropriate sources and that the Department produced no evidence that it had 'poverty-proofed' the recipient's circumstances before triggering deductions.

The Ombudsman commended the department for engaging positively with his office and implementing measures to tackle the issues identified. He said the number of complaints to his office about overpayments had decreased recently in the wake of the investigation.