07/13/2015 06:17 EDT | Updated 07/13/2016 05:59 EDT

Harper Government Aims To Recollect Almost $400M In Fraudulent EI Claims

Officials say they believe the total is dropping, however, and will continue to drop as collection efforts intensify.

OTTAWA - Freshly released figures show the government aims to recoup up to $377.6 million in fraudulent employment insurance benefits paid out during the life of the Conservative government.

Officials say they believe the total is dropping, however, and will continue to drop as collection efforts intensify.

But they won't know for certain until a final tally is done in the coming months for the government's public reporting of its finances this fall.

Fraud figures from the department show that as the years roll on, the collection figures increase, which decreases the amount left outstanding.

Employment and Social Development Canada hopes that trend will hold firm.

"This government takes integrity matters very seriously and has a duty to protect taxpayers' money, and workers' and employers' contributions to the Employment Insurance system," department spokeswoman Julia Sullivan wrote in an email. "We have exercised due diligence in order to recuperate payments wrongfully made due to client fraud, abuse or error."

Over eight fiscal years of Conservative rule, the employment insurance system was bilked for almost $1.09 billion, money that Employment and Social Development Canada has to then go and collect.

Under the Conservative government's watch, the department has collected $599.3 million in fraudulent claims, or about 59 per cent of the bad claims identified.

The department provided the figures in response to a story published last week that cited data provided to The Canadian Press through an access to information request.

That data showed that the amount expected to be recovered from the most recent fiscal year for which figures are available — the year that ended March 31, 2014 — stands at $102.7 million, according to a breakdown the department previously provided.

Government officials have since clarified some of the finer details in the data, zeroing in on three figures they say were incorrectly identified in the story.

A $25-million figure was identified as the amount six years ago the government expected to collect at some point in the future. The government says it still expects to collect that money.

And a $1-million figure in fraudulent claims stemming from 2006-2007 as well as $31.4-million in fraud from 2012-2013 were actually collected over the 2013-2014 fiscal year, officials explained.

Collecting the money is easiest closer to the year when the fraud happens; the further in time away from the source of the fraud, the less likely it is that the department will collect the funds. Debts then can be written off for a variety of reasons, including if the debtor dies or declares bankruptcy, or that the debt itself has passed the 72-month statute of limitations for its collection.

The 72-month clock starts when the fraud is identified, but could be extended if the debtor goes to court, for example. So even seven years on, debts can be collected.

Experts say fraud constitutes less than one per cent of the $15 billion annually doled out in employment insurance benefits.

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