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Financial Assistance overpaid recipients almost $500,000, MPs told

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour. (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Financial Assistance Department has identified almost $500,000 in overpayments due to fraud and abuse, according to a Government report.

The Department of Financial Assistance Annual Report 2020-21 – tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday – said that at the end of the period there were 53 active investigations worth an equivalent of $382,761 linked to claims of non-disclosure of facts, misrepresentation of facts or wilful abuse of the Financial Assistance Programme or the Child Day Care Allowance.

The report also noted that eight cases had been referred to the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Department of Public Prosecutions to seek legal restitution.

However the report said that the Department of Financial Assistance had recommended that $86,866 be “written off” because of the passage of time or low likelihood that the funds would be recoverable.

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, told the House that a number of cases had been referred to the Attorney-General’s Office in the 2020-21 fiscal year for opinions and legal proceedings where deemed prudent.

He added: “At the end of this fiscal period, the total amount of recoverable debt recorded was approximately $469,627.”

Mr Hayward told the House that work to improve good governance and compliance within the department was ongoing.

“This minimises risks and promotes consistency when carrying out operational activities,” he said. “The team is working on transforming the service delivery to ensure the customer experience is professional and demonstrates a high level of customer service delivery.

“During this reporting period the team participated in the International Leadership Management Customer Service Programme to improve their skills in this area.

“This has led to a decrease in the number of complaints logged with the Ombudsman’s Office and reduced the number of appeals referred to the Advisory Board.”

Mr Hayward added that the Annual Report had highlighted a range of other improvements within the Department during the period, including enhanced monitoring and control of expenditure, improved governance and the introduction of the Supplementary Unemployment Benefit Fund in September 2020.

“This funding was created to provide assistance to Bermudians who continued to struggle with unemployment as a direct result of the pandemic,” he said.

“With the implementation of this funding the department was appointed to carry out a rigorous vetting process to minimise fraud and to deter dishonesty.

“Additional resources were recruited to assist with the volume of additional duties associated with the application process.”

He added that financial assistance reforms also began in earnest during the period.

Mr Hayward said that pensioners continued to represent the largest group on financial assistance, followed by disabled persons, low earners and able-bodied unemployment.

He said: “The highest expenditures are rent, nursing homes, food and insurance.

“There is little change in these categories from period to period.

“Similarly, the Child Day Care programme trend does not show any significant changes throughout these years.”

According to the report, 1,024 pensioners received a combined total of $25.37 million or an average of $24775 each in 2020-21, while 782 recipients with disabilities received $15.28 million, an average of $19,540 in the same period.

Meanwhile 220 low-earning recipients received $3.97 million or an average of $18,045 in support and 158 able-bodied unemployed individuals received a combined $2.88 million or an average of $18,227.

Mr Hayward added: “It is the goal of this Ministry to go a step further by positioning Bermudians to achieve gainful and respectful employment opportunities in the local workforce, and to provide the required social support services.”

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Published May 07, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated May 07, 2022 at 7:57 am)

Financial Assistance overpaid recipients almost $500,000, MPs told

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