Thousands caught through Harris government's tough welfare fraud measures

Archived Release

Thousands caught through Harris government's tough welfare fraud measures

Ministry of Community and Social Services

QUEEN'S PARK, TORONTO, Jan. 15 /CNW/ - The Harris government's crackdown on welfare fraud continues to uncover thousands of people who are not eligible to receive benefits in Ontario. The details are included in the annual Welfare Fraud Control Report released today by Community and Social Services Minister John Baird.
"Our government will not tolerate welfare fraud of any kind," said Baird. "We must continue to take steps to ensure that welfare is there for those honest folks who are upgrading their education, improving their job skills, or making the transition from welfare to work."
Between April 1, 2000 and March 31, 2001, assistance was reduced or terminated in over 17,700 cases, including thousands of people in jail, those who did not declare a spouse, and people who did not declare another source of income.
During the last fiscal year, investigations uncovered $58.2 million in social assistance that people were not entitled to receive, and $16.6 million in avoided future costs.

The government's welfare fraud initiatives include:

- A welfare fraud hotline (1-800-394-STOP) that the general public can
call to report suspected cases of welfare fraud.
- A zero tolerance policy making those convicted of welfare fraud
committed on or after April 1, 2000 permanently ineligible for welfare
in Ontario.
- Information-sharing agreements with other Ontario ministries and other
jurisdictions, including the Ministry of Correctional Services and the
federal government.
- Specialized staff to conduct eligibility investigations (Eligibility
Review Officers).

Suspected welfare fraud cases are referred to police by ministry and municipal eligibility review staff. Police further investigate suspected welfare fraud cases and ultimately decide whether or not charges should be laid. Welfare fraud convictions and sentences are handed down by the courts.
"The integrity of the welfare system is based on an expectation that welfare recipients will honestly report their financial circumstances and living arrangements," said Baird. "People who knowingly cheat the system are not only hurting those who truly need assistance, but stealing from the hard-working Ontario taxpayers who foot the bill."

Fact Sheet
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WELFARE FRAUD CHEAT SHEET

Examples of Cases Resulting in Welfare Fraud Convictions

- An individual receiving social assistance as a sole-support parent
failed to report that his dependant child was no longer in his care. He
received social assistance benefits in the amount of $4,838.50 to which
he was not entitled. He pled guilty, received three years probation,
and was ordered to pay full restitution. He was convicted of social
assistance fraud in November 2000. The zero tolerance policy was
applied, making the individual permanently ineligible for welfare.

- A woman receiving social assistance failed to report that she had
assets above her allowable asset limit. She received social assistance
in the amount of $115,347.73 to which she was not entitled. She was
convicted of social assistance fraud in December 2000. She received a
nine-month conditional sentence, two years probation and 200 hours of
community service. The offence occurred before April 1, 2000. She was
ineligible for social assistance for three months.

- A woman receiving social assistance as a sole-support parent failed to
report that she had reconciled with her spouse. She received social
assistance benefits in the amount of $9,912.00 to which she was not
entitled. She was convicted of social assistance fraud on February 19,
2001. She is permanently ineligible for welfare.

- An individual receiving social assistance failed to report income from
employment. He received social assistance in the amount of $32,390.90
to which he was not entitled. He was convicted of social assistance
fraud in October 2000 and sentenced to 12 months in jail. He is
permanently ineligible for welfare.

- A woman receiving social assistance failed to report income from the
Canada Pension Plan. She received social assistance in the amount of
$51,920.81 to which she was not entitled. She was convicted of social
assistance fraud in June 2000 and was ordered to make full restitution.
The offence occurred before April 1, 2000. She was ineligible for
social assistance benefits for three months.

- An individual receiving social assistance failed to report that he had
assets in numerous bank accounts above his allowable asset limit. He
received social assistance in the amount of $66,685.50 to which he was
not entitled. He was convicted of social assistance fraud in April
2000. He received two years of probation and was ordered to make full
restitution. The offence occurred before April 1, 2000. He was
ineligible for social assistance benefits for three months.

- A woman receiving social assistance failed to report income from
employment. She received social assistance in the amount of $42,063.75
to which she was not entitled. She was convicted of social assistance
fraud in December 2000. She received a suspended sentence and three
years of probation. She was also ordered to repay $24,295.65 at a rate
of $100.00 per month. The offence occurred before April 1, 2000. She
was ineligible for social assistance benefits for three months.

Welfare Fraud Control Report 2000-2001

Introduction

The government has taken a number of important steps to detect and prevent fraud and misuse of the social assistance system. These include :

- establishing a Welfare Fraud Hotline to detect and prevent fraud;
- introducing new legislation to expand the investigative powers of
eligibility review staff;
- setting up a province-wide fraud control database to monitor and track
results of welfare fraud investigations; and
- implementing information-sharing agreements with both provincial and
federal governments.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services reports annually on the results of its social assistance eligibility assessments and investigations. This report covers the period from April 1, 2000 to March 31, 2001. Measures to prevent fraud and misuse of the social assistance system have produced positive results in 2000-2001.
In 2000-2001, over $58 million was identified in social assistance payments that people were not entitled to receive and an estimated $17 million in avoided future costs. These amounts are based on the total amounts that clients must repay and an estimate of the assistance that would have been paid if situations of ineligibility had not been identified. Table 1 provides a breakdown of results of fraud investigations :

less than less than
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Table 1: Results
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2000-2001 1999-2000 1998-1999 1997-1998
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Welfare fraud criminal
convictions 430 557 747 1,123
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Assistance reduced or
terminated because of
eligibility assessments/
investigations 17,734 15,680 16,946 14,771
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Social assistance that
people were not entitled
to receive $ 58.2 M $ 46.3 M $ 60.0 M $ 63.0 M
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Avoided future costs $ 16.6 M $ 20.0 M $ 38.0 M $ 37.0 M
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Eligibility Investigations

Anti-fraud measures help catch welfare cheats and deter others from thinking about cheating. Referrals come from a number of sources. Case reviews by local offices turn up discrepancies. The general public may contact local offices or call the Welfare Fraud Hotline to report cases of suspected fraud. Information-sharing agreements are another source of referrals.
All welfare fraud allegations received from the public or through government initiatives are investigated by Eligibility Review staff.

Table 2 shows the breakdown by source of these referrals.

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Table 2: Source of Welfare Fraud Complaint
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2000-2001 1999-2000 1998-1999 1997-1998
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Welfare Fraud Hotline 9,348 8,825 8,327 7,910
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Information-Sharing
agreements 10,447 12,502 11,577 12,514
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Local provincial/municipal
offices 33,028 33,714 39,158 41,229
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TOTAL 52,823 55,041 59,062 61,653
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In 2000-2001, follow-up was completed on 52,582 referrals. As a result of assessments and investigations conducted, 17,734 reductions or terminations of assistance were made. Table 3 shows the results :

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Table 3: Results of Welfare Fraud Investigations
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2000-2001 1999-2000 1998-1999 1997-1998
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No. Of % Of No. Of % Of No. Of % Of No. Of % Of
Cases Cases Cases Cases Cases Cases Cases Cases
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Social assistance
reduced or
terminated due
to eligibility
assessments and
investigations 17,734 33.7% 15,680 35.7% 16,946 33.9% 14,771 27.6%
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No eligibility
problems found 34,848 66.3% 28,220 64.3% 33,041 66.1% 38,681 72.4%
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Total 52,582 100.0 43,900 100.0 49,987 100.0 53,452 100.0
% % % %
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Welfare fraud is a crime. This government is cracking down on welfare fraud and misuse to protect the system for those who really need it, and to prevent taxpayer dollars from being wasted. Table 4 provides a breakdown of criminal convictions for welfare fraud, cases under investigation by the police, and cases referred to the provincial crown attorney.

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Table 4: Police Investigations and Criminal Convictions
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2000-2001 1999-2000 1998-1999 1997-1998
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Criminal convictions for
welfare fraud 430 557 747 1,123
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Cases under police
investigation 698 601 722 623
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Cases referred to provincial
crown attorney for possible
court action 229 103 232 498
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Table 5 below provides a breakdown of why assistance was terminated or reduced.

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Table 5: Reason for Reduction/Termination of Assistance
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2000-2001 1999-2000 1998-1999 1997-1998
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No. Of % Of No. Of % Of No. Of % Of No. Of % Of
Cases Cases Cases Cases Cases Cases Cases Cases
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Incarcerated 7,737 43.6% 7,139 45.5% 5,747 33.9% 3,136 21.2%
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Spouse not declared 2,042 11.5% 1,709 10.9% 2,475 14.6% 3,107 21.0%
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Undeclared Income 2,735 15.4% 2,309 14.8% 2,546 15.0% 2,559 17.3%
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Undeclared
Earnings 1,241 7.0% 1,416 9.0% 1,958 11.6% 1,743 11.8%
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Not at Stated
Address 1,231 6.9% 1,339 8.5% 1,617 9.5% 1,504 10.2%
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Rent Overstated 646 3.7% 540 3.4% 771 4.5% 719 4.9%
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Child not living
with recipient/
child not in
school 581 3.3% 416 2.7% 486 2.9% 504 3.4%
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Duplicate Cheques 124 0.7% 136 0.9% 261 1.5% 326 2.2%
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Undisclosed Assets 299 1.7% 204 1.3% 280 1.7% 309 2.1%
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Other 1,098 6.2% 472 3.0% 805 4.8% 864 5.9%
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Total 17,734 100.0 15,680 100.0 16,946 100.0 14,771 100.0
% % % %
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Zero Tolerance

This government promised a continued crackdown on welfare fraud and introduced a zero tolerance policy for welfare fraud. Anyone convicted of social assistance fraud for an offence committed, in whole or in part, on or after April 1, 2000, is permanently ineligible for welfare.
Between April 1, 2000 and March 31, 2001, there were 17 convictions for welfare fraud resulting in permanent ineligibility.

Welfare Fraud Hotline (1-800-394-7867)

The Welfare Fraud Hotline is a centralized 1-800 number that the general public can call to report suspected cases of welfare fraud. All fraud allegations are referred to local welfare offices for assessment and investigation. Table 6 shows the results :

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Table 6: Fraud Hotline
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2000-2001 1999-2000 1998-1999 1997-1998
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Calls received by provincial
hotline 22,152 19,662 21,534 18,201
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Number of fraud referrals 9,348 8,825 8,327 7,910
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Social assistance reduced
or terminated due to
eligibility assessments
and investigations 1,016 883 905 1,044
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Total social assistance that
people were not entitled to
receive/future costs avoided $ 6.9 M $ 6.1 M $ 6.9 M $ 8.9 M
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Information-sharing Agreements

Information-sharing agreements with third parties help ensure that individuals do not receive assistance to which they are not entitled. For example, information obtained from the Ministry of Correctional Services helps to identify prisoners who are illegally collecting welfare. Several agreements have been signed with Ontario government ministries, other provinces and departments of the federal government. The Ministry of Community and Social Services continues to pursue information-sharing agreements with other third parties. Table 7 provides the list of information-sharing agreements used in 2000-2001.

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Table 7: Information-sharing Agreements
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Other Ontario government - Ministry of the Attorney General (Family
ministries Responsibility Office)*
- Ministry of Correctional Services
- Ministry of Transportation
- Ministry of Training, Colleges and
Universities (Ontario Student Assistance
Program)
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Other provinces - Alberta
All provinces and - Saskatchewan
territories; conducting - Manitoba
automated data matching - Nova Scotia
with: - Quebec

(ad hoc manual data matching with the others)
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Federal government - Human Resources Development Canada
(Employment Insurance)
- Citizenship and Immigration Canada
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* As of April 9, 2001, the Ministry of Community and Social Services assumed responsibility of FRO.

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Sources :
1. Welfare Fraud Control Database.
2. Merits System maintained by the City of Toronto.

Disponible en francais

For more information visit http://www.gov.on.ca/CSS
For further information: Contacts: Dan Miles, Minister's Office, (416) 325-5215; Anne Machowski, Ministry of Community and Social Services, (416) 325-5156