Department must tread carefully when reclaiming welfare over-payments, says Carlow senator

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Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Fianna Fáil Senator Jennifer Murnane O’Connor has said the Department of Social Protection must tread carefully in future when reclaiming over-payments which it mistakenly made.

Carlow's Senator Murnane O’Connor was commenting as a report from the Ombudsman revealed he had upheld almost half the complaints he received about the matter.

She said: "Lessons must be learned from this report. Glaring anomalies have been pointed out including inconsistencies across the country in how over-payments were being dealt with and a failure in communicating with recipients.

"I have heard of instances where people have been pursued for overpayments which occurred many years ago and went entirely unnoticed at the time.

"The ombudsman’s own report details how recipients sought to query their payments or bring attention to inaccuracies only for their queries to fall on deaf ears."

"If and when this occurs in the future, the Department of Social Protection must engage with the recipient, communicate clearly, acknowledge their own role and seek to find a resolution which suits both parties.

"I don’t think it is reasonable to expect an alleged debt of thousands of euro to be paid on demand when the debt occurred many years ago and often unknown to the person.

"There needs to be a plan set in place with reasonable repayments, which does not put a person at significant financial disadvantage when they are not at fault," she added. 

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