Interior of Dublin's Mount Joy prison

Irish prisoners have claimed millions of Euros in social welfare payments while in jail – or on the run from justice in some cases.

A new report, published in the Irish Independent, claims that inmates have ripped off the taxpayer to the tune of millions in the fraud.

Social Welfare payments aren’t automatically cut-off according to the report which claims that almost 2,000 prisoners claimed benefit they weren’t entitled to in 2010 alone – one in five of the country’s prison population.

Some of them were even on the run while the payments were made while the rest languished behind bars while the Social Welfare system continued to pay them.

Under Irish legislation, the onus is on prisoners to inform the Department of Social Welfare when they are incarcerated as it is illegal for a prisoner to claim welfare payments.

The survey into last year’s prison population discovered that 1,661 prisoners were claiming payments. A further 381 were paid by the Social Welfare while on the run.

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Payments such as jobseeker’s allowance were collected by family members or paid directly into the prisoner’s bank account while in some cases, relatives have posted as prisoners to collect the payments.

New Social Welfare minister Joan Burton has vowed to crack down on fraud in the system and has responded to the claims made by the Irish Independent.

Minister Burton told the paper: “The cross-checking of claims with the Irish Prison Service is a very efficient and effective way of tackling welfare fraud.

“I am committed to a zero tolerance approach to social welfare fraud. A key objective of my department’s fraud control strategy is to ensure that the right person is paid the right amount of money at the right time.”

The Department says it saved over €400,000 alone last year by shutting off fraudulent payments to prisoners.

The paper also reports that between 2005 and 2010, the department cross-checked almost 30,000 prisoner records and found that around one in six prisoners (5,270) was claiming social welfare.

It says a total of €3.28m has been saved since 2006 due to the detection of fraudulent claims in prison.
Prisoners claiming social welfare can be prosecuted and fined up to €2,500.