A new breed of supergrass is alive and well in Ireland – and shopping social welfare cheats to the authorities.

The News of the World reports that almost 6,000 dole fraudsters were reported to government authorities in the first five months of 2011.

The new statistic is up 1,500 on the same period last year – and that staggering 6,000 figure compares to just 1,044 cheats reported in 2008.

Department of Social Welfare chiefs believe the huge increase in the number of cheats exposed is due to the recession and its effect on cash-strapped families.

The Department received 3,897 tip-offs by email, 1,603 by phone and 329 by letter.

“During the boom days people got away with working and claiming benefits because most people didn’t care,” a Department source told the paper.

“The country was awash with cash but now that things are tight, people aren’t willing to put up with it.

“They are not hesitating to contact the authorities and rightly so.”

Measures to combat social welfare fraud saved the Irish state some $700 million in 2010 and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton is pressing for even more convictions.

“The prevention of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system is an integral part of the day-to-day work of the Department,” insisted Minister Burton.

“The Department’s Control policy aims to minimize fraud and abuse of the social welfare system.

“As part of this policy, the Central Control Section accepts reports of possible fraud offered by members of the public in relation to the Department’s schemes.

“All reports are followed up and are dealt with in confidence.”

Figures released by the Department outline 12,648 tip-offs from the public in 2010, an increase of 6,219 on the 2009 figures.