THE DEPARTMENT of Social Protection has issued an apology to the family of a Kilcar woman who they wrongly accused of being overpaid in non contributory state pension.
Following the death of Mary McBrearty in April 2015 the Department contacted her son Conail who was the executor of her will after they felt there were irregularities. The Department requested transactions of bank statements from 1998 to 2015 from the family.
Mr McBrearty then received a letter dated May 16 2016 which claimed that Mrs McBrearty’s estate owed €45,926.60 to the Department because of the overpayment. The letter said that this money had to be received within 21 days and if not the file would be forwarded to the deciding officer in Sligo for a formal decision. Mr McBrearty questioned the Department’s claims asking them if they had taken into account that Mrs McBrearty had been married up until the death of her husband in November 2010 and therefore assets were jointly held up until this date. While initially stating that they had taken this into consideration the Department later admitted they had made a mistake and hadn’t looked at Mrs McBrearty’s husband’s file. Instead of assessing Mrs McBrearty as a married person over this period they had assessed her as single.
The Department reduced the amount owed to €14,085 and after further questions were raised by Mr McBrearty the figure went down to €6,070. The department then revisited the figures and increased them back to €7,383. Mr McBrearty again questioned these figures and the Department then said that they could not spend any more time discussing the matter and left Mr McBrearty no option but to appeal.
When Mr McBrearty appealed he was told that after review the department would not pursue the case. When he questioned why he was eventually told that new evidence had come to the surface. Mr McBrearty again asked what this evidence was and was eventually told that the new evidence was actually his late father’s file had now been looked at.
The Department apologised for the case being “poorly handled from the outset, with a series of errors occurring” and apologised for the inconvenience caused to Mr McBrearty. The Ombudsman also wrote to the Department suggesting that an “ex gratia” payment of €500 in recognition of the delay and expense and to mitigate the adverse effect of the Department’s errors.
It was also agreed the Department would carry out a review of the process to prevent this mistake occurring again.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week Mr McBrearty described the actions of the Department as “shambolic” and said it was very clear that their figures were wrong from the start. He is telling his story to highlight that these types of mistakes should not be allowed to happen and for more people to “not just accept what the Department says” and that they may well have been overpaid.
He said: “Most people who get that letter through the door would start panicking but I did not. I contacted a solicitor who wanted to charge me €1,300 to look into the matter but instead I looked into these matters myself. There may be someone in rural Ireland with not the best of education and they may say ‘right OK I’ll just pay it’.”
Mr McBrearty, who resides in Scotland, received the cheque for €500 on March 8 after over two years of correspondence with the Department. The investigation meant that Mr McBrearty was unable to settle his mother’s estate during this period and he also incurred expenses travelling over and back to try and get the case resolved as well as other solicitors fees.
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