Benefits Agency errors led to 500m pounds in pay-outs

The Benefits Agency last year made a record number of over and underpayments of income support, making overpayments amounting to more than half a billion pounds and underpayments estimated at pounds 77m, writes Nicholas Timmins.

And, despite an extensive computerisation programme at the Department of Social Security, it will be 'years' before a significant improvement is made in the accuracy with which the 'safety net' benefit is paid, Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General, has recorded.

The findings yesterday led Sir John to qualify the agency's accounts for the sixth year since income support was introduced in 1988.

For the first time since then, the actual total of money over and underpaid fell slightly as a percentage of the pounds 16.34bn paid out. But the number of cases in which mistakes were made stood at an all-time high at 16.8 per cent.

Among the 21 offices sampled, the two best performers made mistakes in fewer than 9 per cent of cases. But in six of the 21 offices mistakes were made in at least a quarter of cases. In some cases the agency had failed to take account of all loans, in others it had used incorrect mortgage balances or incorrect interest rates for calculations.

Attempts are made to recover overpayments where a claimant's failure to report changes in circumstances is to blame, Sir John said in his report.

But 'overpayments arising from official mistakes are . . . written off. In cases where underpayments have occurred, the agency will normally pay claimants the arrears due'. Most of the cases were official errors.

Mistakes were also made in paying mortgage interest to 550,000 income support claimants to the tune of pounds 81m in overpayments and pounds 17.4m in underpayments. Overall the DSS underestimated its expenditure by pounds 1bn, and, despite being voted an extra pounds 790m during the year, is having to seek another pounds 141m.

Sir John recorded that the agency 'recognise that there are long-standing problems in administering the income support scheme. They believe therefore that it will require a sustained effort over a period of years before they will be able to achieve a significant and lasting improvement in the accuracy of this benefit'.

Alistair Burt, the junior social security minister, promised action, with every mortgage interest case reviewed, computer improvements, and the introduction of computers at post office counters which should improve forecasting.

The department is also to switch its checks so that more are carried out before payments are made.

Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, HC 670-IX; HMSO.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager - OTE £60,000

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In 2014, they launched the worl...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Design Lead

£23958 - £29282 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

£22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

Recruitment Genius: HR Recruitment Advisor

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of children's ser...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones