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Nearly €14m in over-payments by the Social Security Department

The Social Security Department mistakenly issued nearly €14 million in overpayments to clients, ten million of which consisted in non-contributory benefits.

The Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity Marie Louise Coleiro Preca told the Public Accounts Committee that these overpayments were the result of administrative mistakes where the processing in the system failed.

It was not clear over what period these overpayments were made.

She said that the department did not have an integrated and efficient ICT system for timely assessment. The system was not linked to the system used by the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) to record employment in real time.

The minister spoke of a widow who was asked to refund LM18, 000 in overpaid benefits after her two children started working even though she had verbally notified the district office immediately on this development.

The ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Mark Mousu, said that an individual was found to have been overpaid €37,000 in benefits between 2004 and 2010 after a sample check had been made through the system. Recovery was being made at a rate of less than ten per cent. The department could legally only go back two years on overpayment issues.

The Acting Director General of the Social Security Department, Edward Buttigieg, said that a section for recovery of these overpayments had been set up last year. 

Ms Coleiro Preca said that discussions were underway to strengthen anti-fraud procedures and developing an integrated ICT system with other entities including the ETC.

PAC Chairman Tonio Fenech asked whether the department had looked at the possibility of using business intelligence tools to tackle the problem.

Mr Buttigieg replied that this had been recommended by Price Waterhouse Coopers in a report they had prepared to the department. He said that investment was needed annually to apply these tools.

Nationalist MP Claudio Grech disagreed that the fault was with the IT system adding that he was sure that the department had access to information through its Central data base. What was lacking was automatic integration.

Mr Mousu said that although the department had certain information it was unable to detect and prevent certain overpayments.

The PAC also discussed the annual report of the Agenzija Sapport within the Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS).

The CEO of the foundation Sina Bugeja told the committee that €3.5 million less were to be spent on transport of disabled people over a period of seven years after negotiated procedures with two providers of the transport service had been concluded after 2009. The original contract with the providers had been made by the Education ministry. She said that three tail lift vans belonging to the foundation were more suitable to a museum than used for transport.

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