The Daily Telegraph - Labour has paid out pounds 2 bn benefits in error

Thursday, 20 April, 2006

THE unemployed and people on low incomes have received more than pounds 2 billion in overpaid benefits since Labour came to power.

The Government yesterday blamed "official error''. The Tories described the total as "shocking''.

Ministers said there was nothing they could do to recoup the cash other than ask people to repay it voluntarily.

The figures were compiled from answers to parliamentary questions tabled by David Ruffley, the Conservative spokesman for welfare reform.

He called last night for John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to report to Parliament on what action he was taking to stop taxpayers' money being sent in error to benefits recipients.

Last year the total overpaid in income support - an income-related benefit paid to low earners aged between 16 and 60 - was pounds 200 million. That was up from pounds 140 million two years before and took the total income support overpayment since Tony Blair entered Downing Street to pounds 1.17 billion.

The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that its top civil servant, Leigh Lewis, the permanent secretary, had ordered task forces into Jobcentre Plus offices, pensions centres and the Disability and Carers Service before Easter to tackle the crisis.

Mr Ruffley blamed meddling by "incompetent'' ministers who had created an impossibly complex system.

"Gordon Brown's fiddling with the benefit system, and DWP ministers' incompetent running of it, is causing chaos,'' he said. "It is confusing vulnerable claimants, many of whom will, quite understandably, have spent any money overpaid to them.

"It is also not getting taxpayers' money to the people who need it most.''

Last month DWP officials said they would try to claw back any overpayment of pension credit that had been made in error in cases where the mistakes would have been apparent to the recipients.