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No jail for €20,000 benefit cheat

Donal O'Neill
Donal O'Neill

A DUBLIN man, who unlawfully claimed more than €20,000 in disability benefits while he was working for a debt collection company, has been given a three-month suspended sentence.

Donal O'Neill, 47, with an address at Shanliss Avenue, Santry, admitted breaking social welfare regulations and claiming payments while he was employed.

The charges stated he failed to notify the Department of Social Protection that he was commissioned for work on a contract for services basis which affected his entitlement to disability allowance, and he made a false statement.

Solicitor Joseph Maguire, for the Department, had told Judge John O'Neill at Dublin District Court that Mr O'Neill had been working for a debt collection company while claiming a disability allowance. He said the total amount of the fraud was €20,084 and to date O'Neill has repaid €3,906.

He still owes just over €16,000 to the social welfare authorities, the court heard.

Judge John O'Neill heard the man's repayments are now coming from a supplementary welfare allowance benefit he is now getting. 

The court heard that the man, who had no prior criminal convictions, had originally been on a disability benefits from the age of 20 and that he had a medical condition. The fraud came to light after he got some self-employed work which he did while he continued to claim the benefit. 

A standing order he had set up to pay back the social welfare authorities had stopped at one stage, the court heard.

He took umbrage at being prosecuted and the publicity surrounding his case, his barrister said.

The judge said the accused should not have been surprised given the amount of money involved and he should realise that he was to blame.

A three-month sentence was imposed but was suspended on condition O'Neill keeps the peace and does not re-offend for 12 months.

The offence that can result in a fine of up to €2,500 and or a six-month sentence in addition to being made pay back the amount of benefits he wrongfully claimed.

The social welfare authorities have a mechanism to recover money owed to them after a case has been finalised.