Stewart says he would propose that child benefit should be signed for monthly at local Social Welfare offices, and the full value of the benefit re-instated.
He said that this would not only tackle fraud from absentee or migrant beneficiaries, but will also allow for a reduction in payments made to those who do not actually need the payment.
He went on: “As for those more well-off, the inconvenience of signing on for the value of the payment may outweigh the necessity for those who are comfortable enough that they do not actually need the money.
“Those who are currently receiving Social Welfare assistance would not necessarily have to sign twice either, as this could be an amalgamated declaration, similar to the declaration which they make now for jobseekers benefits and for instances where the claimant is working, accommodations could be also be made to allow people to make their claim by using their Social Services Card through a nominated post office.
“Realistically, we could see up to 10% of the expenditure saved from this as a preventative measure, or up to €250 million a year. Two years ago a clampdown on non-national claimants, who were still claiming the benefits even though they had returned home or moved to another country resulted in over 3000 claims being suspended.
“By making people sign regularly to receive the payments, this will proactively reduce this waste, and cut off fraudulent claims at the point where they become fraudulent, rather than playing catch-up and allowing the problem to escalate.”
Meanwhile he warned Donegal families are starting to see the cuts bite.
“For a family with four children, the cut is equivalent to heating your home for up to two weeks, or paying for a significant portion of the electricity bill,” said Stewart who will stand in Donegal North East next year.
“Child benefit is a universal payment made to every child in the country, whether from a wealthy background or a poorer background and should never have been touched in the budget.
“The banking crisis means that our children and grandchildren will be paying for this throughout their working life. The payment is used by most families for the very basic requirements of raising their children, from buying baby food and nappies to contributing to keeping them secure in a warm home, and reducing this benefit is penny pinching from the most vulnerable citizens of our society, our children.
“We do need to tackle the budget deficit, but we also have a quantifiable degree of child benefit fraud, which should be tackled first, with people still receiving benefits even after they have left the country, as we have seen with migrant workers who were eligible but have returned home and still have money paid directly to their bank accounts.
“There have also been arguments made that the Child Benefit should be means tested, however I believe that this would be unworkable as it would take too long to implement, take up a lot of resources and cause undue hardship with immediate suspension of payments to some families.
“We should be looking at means of keeping the costs of administration to a minimum, and reducing the overall spend without impacting on family finances. Wastage from high administration costs, benefit fraud and changing how people are accepting these payments are where reductions can be made without taking the money from the pockets of those who need it most.”