France's rights ombudsman slams abuses of benefits fraud crackdown

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Successive French governments have made a priority of the issue of social benefits fraud, which is recurrently a popular subject for politicians of all sides during election campaigns, and also for some sections of the media. But a report this month by France’s official ombudsman for the protection of citizens’ rights reveals that while the true cost of benefits fraud is often grossly overestimated, benefits agencies are engaged in such a zealous crackdown that many innocent people, most often the poorest in society, have been cheated of their rightful allowances, and ordered to make backpayments on false pretences. Mediapart political commentator Hubert Huertas details the findings of the report.

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A report published this month by France’s official rights ombudsman, the défenseur des droits, offers an insight into the arbitrary actions of benefits agencies against those it suspects of fraud. Ombudsman Jacques Toubon, who heads the body tasked with defending citizens’ rights, details the cases of people, often the poorest in society, who were wrongly hounded for alleged benefits fraud. In many cases, those accused are not given the opportunity to defend themselves, while others are even unaware that they are the subject of an investigation. In numerous examples, the social benefits administrations wrongfully demand relatively huge sums in backpayments, even when the proof of the innocence of those targeted has been provided.