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Letta cracks down on benefits cheats

'Scandal hurts those most in need'

03 December, 17:07
Letta cracks down on benefits cheats (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, December 3 - The Italian government on Tuesday approved a new procedure for evaluating those in need of government assistance, aimed at making it tougher for people to fraudulently collect benefits. "It aims to halt the scandal of fake poor people," said Premier Enrico Letta. The reform decree puts a greater emphasis on monitoring the value of assets and reduces the amount of property exemptions. It also requires revenue authorities to evaluate assistance applications more carefully and to depend less on applicants' self-declared income and property. Finance police in Italy routinely crack down on people living lavish lifestyles found to be collecting assistance benefits from the government, taking a huge toll on Italy's public services. In 2012 police cited 9,632 people for false social-security and welfare claims costing the State coffers some 103 million euros.

In a recent investigation, police uncovered one student receiving financial aid at her university in Rome, despite the fact that her father drove a Ferrari and owned several luxury homes. fake According to her self-declared financial records, her family made only 19,000 euros annually. "We have seen the scandal of the student who went to school in a Ferrari," said Letta. Such examples "hurt the many who are truly in need". In the probe, investigators examined students' financial records and need-based scholarship applications at Rome's three major universities - La Sapienza, Tor Vergata and Roma Tre universities.

They found that 62% of those students were fraudulently receiving government aid.

One student at Roma Tre said she "forgot" to mention her family's annual income of 70,000 euros, while another calculated her family income to be 14,313 euros yet failed to mention a 600,000-euro bank account. With Italy mired in its worst recession in two decades and unemployment soaring, more students than ever have applied for financial assistance. According to school officials in Rome, 84% of university students in the capital have applied for some form of aid, of whom 16% are listed as being in serious need at La Sapienza, and 27% at Roma Tre and Tor Vergata. Experts say many of those students have turned to higher education in lieu of a job, as the jobless rate among youth climbs beyond 40%. "We know that resources are limited," said Labor Minister Enrico Giovannini after a cabinet meeting Tuesday. "That's why it's crucial they go to those who need it".

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