For a country that has been ruthlessly cutting back on public expenditure, the revelation that Social Security has been paying ‘dead pensioners’ millions of euros in benefits for years comes as a clattering new embarrassment.
In some cases, the ‘beneficiaries’ have been six-foot under for as much as a decade, say reports – though the ‘average’ discovered for these lapses appears to be six years.
Expresso explains the problems stem from benefits known as “pensões de sobrevivência” – the oldest in the Social Security system, and designed to support people through widowhood – and a lack of ‘communication’ between government departments.
“The services depend on information given by beneficiaries”, said the Auditors Court.
If the beneficiary is dead, then of course the information won’t ‘get through’.
In theory, ‘third parties’ should alert authorities to the fact that a beneficiary has died, but this doesn’t always happen, as the Auditors Court has finally realised on analysis of data for the years 2016-2017.
What this story doesn’t explain is that €4 million is very possibly only the tip of the iceberg. If this problem is systemic, then it will have been going on for decades.
Stresses Expresso however, the situation “has its days numbered”.
The new Law of the 2019 State Budget promotes the “reinforcement of data interconnection between Social Security and various entities. One of these is the institute of births and deaths (IRN) which will allow Social Security to know more quickly who has died in Portugal”, says the paper.
But how to get the overpaid millions back? And how many in total are we talking about?
That’s where the texts produced today get a bit hazy.
Expresso suggests ‘leaders’ within Social Security could be “made responsible”, but that’s a given: they are responsible. What they won’t have is millions of euros to pay ‘into the system’.
The ‘good news’ is that around €614,000 has been ‘recovered’. But that does look like the best anyone will be able to do.
Says Expresso, “more than half the value of the debt was not even registered as debt when the pensions were finally stopped”.
Tabloid Correio da Manhã has gone as always for the ‘shock element’, finding instances where benefits were paid out for 16 years following the death of the elderly person concerned – and citing “two cases of active pensions of beneficiaries with the beginning of a pension prior to their own birth”.
The labyrinthine muddle has been further complicated by the fact that over 9000 cases refer to pensions paid out to beneficiaries who did not even possess a national insurance number, says the paper, adding that the Accounts Court has further discovered “errors and inconsistencies” in benefits paid out to people towards the costs of funerals. These involve payments to family members burying loved-ones on the one hand, and the continuing payout of benefits to the deceased on the other.