Senator Conway-Walsh asks for compassion and understanding in the recoupment of welfare over-payments to people who are now deceased
Senator Rose-Conway Walsh has has questioned the manner in which the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection seeks to recoup welfare over-payments from the families and the estates of deceased recipients.
The Mayo Senator said there needs to me more compassion and understanding in the recoupment of Welfare over-payments to people who cannot defend themselves.
Speaking in the Seanad, Senator Conway-Walsh said:
“The current manner in which over-payments are recouped means that grieving families are left with a sudden and unexpected financial burden at an exceptionally difficult time.
"It also has the effect of making some elderly citizens extremely anxious and nervous about claiming benefits to which they are fully entitled, for fear of creating difficulties for their families down the line. Some people’s circumstances are not as cut and dry as the rules demand.
"They may be in receipt of an English pension, may acquire land or property from deceased siblings or indeed may inherit other forms of wealth without ever being full aware of this happening."
Senator Conway-Walsh has also expressed concern about the fear elderly people are experiencing around claiming of State payments and entitlements saying elderly people who have contributed so much to society should not have to live in fear of payments being taken away from them.
"These people feel highly vulnerable and violated while strangers go through their bank or credit union accounts and are bombarded with demands for private intimate details.
"I think it is wrong that vulture funds, banks and other very wealthy companies and individuals are allowed to escape without paying their taxes while vulnerable citizens are scrutinised and penalised even when they are dead.
"Whilst we all want an end to blatant fraud within the social welfare system, the fact is that many elderly deceased will not have dealt with the Department for years. It can be hard on the elderly to keep up with their changes in circumstances and to maintain regular contact with the Department.
"The responsibility is always put over on the claimant but the truth is when you are dealing with illness, eyesight and hearing problems that often comes with aging it is very easy make a genuine error.
"I was informed by Minister Finian McGrath yesterday that most of the instances of the Department seeking repayments involved reviews of the estates of the deceased. When action such as this is taken it serves to criminalise and demonise people who have made genuine mistakes or oversights and cannot defend themselves.
"A more humane approach including greater staff allocation to assisting long term claimants is needed to avoid distressing situations such as this."