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Rise in number of people who received PUP while working


The number of people believed to have received the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) while they were working has “increased quite significantly” with the estimate more than doubling, the Department of Social Protection has said.

Last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) reported that the department hoped to recover up to €70 million from about 20,000 people who received the PUP while they were working.

The secretary general of the department, John McKeon, told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that more than €16m has been recovered so far.

But he revealed that up to 60,000 cases of overpayment have now been uncovered.

A special unit is being established to engage with people about the repayments in order to avoid a large bill when they become pensioners.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fianna Fáil TD and PAC member Paul McAuliffe said that the cost of the overpayments could hit €200m, but that, because “not all of those 50 or 60,000 cases would necessarily be overpayments”, “it’s unlikely to be that full amount”.

He warned that many of those who were overpaid “may never again make a social welfare claim until they retire”, prompting concern among PAC members that, if there was not active engagement with them, “they would end up being presented with a large bill on their retirement”.

He added that if the money was claimed while people were working, “that is fraud, it’s incorrect and it should be repaid.

“I think we have to look at those payments and take a pragmatic approach and where it’s very, very small, I don’t think they’re worth pursuing.

“What was clear from the department is that if people fraudulently claimed, and they believe that it will disappear, that’s not the case. This bill will be waiting.”

Extraordinarily high employment rate

Mr McKeon also told the committee that there are now 17,000 Ukrainian refugees working full-time.

“In total, 24,000 started employment,” he said, noting that this includes some part-time work.

“The number of full-time employments is 17,000,” he said, adding that around twice that number are attending regular meetings with departmental case officers as they continue to seek employment.

The proportion of Ukrainians – “three quarters of whom are women and children” – who are working is “about 30%”.

“That’s an extraordinarily high employment rate,” Mr McKeon said.

The department itself currently employs 100 Ukrainians, with 36 others having moved on “to permanent jobs elsewhere in the civil service”.

There are 500 Ukrainians on community employment schemes, and 110 on work placements, he added.

Overall, the number of Ukrainians in Ireland has fallen from 103,000 to 80,000, Mr McKeon said, which is “an estimate. We obviously don’t track peoples’ movements”. This number includes 21,000 children.

Once every quarter, people have to come to a post office to sign for their benefits, he added.

Mr McKeon rejected a suggestion from Fine Gael TD Colm Burke that refugees are reluctant to take up either work or community employment schemes, saying that Ukrainians “are more eager to engage” that some other claimants.

“We’re not a perfect department,” he told the committee. “We make 90 million payments a year. Even a small percentage of error has a big impact.”


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