How benefit blunders leave the taxpayers with an extra £2bn bill

Thursday, 20 April, 2006

Benefit payment blunders have cost taxpayers more than £2billion under Labour, it was revealed last night.

The astronomical sum has been overpaid to hundreds of thousands of welfare claimants- many of them workshy scroungers- thanks to a catalogue of errors by Whitehall penpushers.

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions admitted to the daily Express: 'It's our mistake- and we can't get the money back.'

The overpayments we re made in millions of Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance handouts. They would be enough to wipe out the NHS deficit more than twice over.

The cash is on top of the £3 billion cost of benefit fraud every year.

Tory frontbencher David Ruffley, Shadow Minister for Welfare reform, said: 'Ministers are presiding over a quagmire of incompetence that has become a disgraceful burden on taxpayers.'

Mr Ruffley, who obtained the figures in a Parliamentary written answer, added: 'Taxpayers deserve a properly run benefit system that is simpler and fairer. New labour's welfare system isn't working.'

The revelations show more than £200 million is overpaid in Income Support and Jobseekers allowance every year.

In total, a staggering 1.17 billion has been overpaid in Income Support because of official mistakes since 1997. the figure for Jobseeker's Allowance has hit £910 million over the same period.

Despite repeated promises by Labour ministers to crack down on the benefits bill, total overpayments have remained at around the same level every year, with income Support overpayments increasing by one and a half times.

Whitehall insiders admit that 'human error' is largely to blame- mostly civil servants typing wrong figures into computers- with glitches in the computer system also to blame.

Both benefits are worth up to £57.45 a week to claimants. Last night, officials confirmed that they will not have to repay any of the cash.

Mr Ruffley blamed the scandal on meddling in the benefits system by Chancellor Gordon Brown.

'It is not getting taxpayers' money to the people who need it most,' he said.

He urged Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton to explain to the Commons how overpayments could be slashed. The blunders were also savaged by the TaxPayers Alliance, which campaigns against Government waste.

Campaigns Director, James Frayne said: 'This is just another example of how Government incompetence costs ordinary taxpayers billions of pounds a year.'

Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance are paid to millions of unemployed and low-income claimants.

While most are genuinely in need, a significant number are suspected of milling the system and although ministers have repeatedly pledged to slash welfare costs, the bill has soared to more than £110 billion a year over the past eight years. The figures come on top of blunders over Pension Credit exposed by the daily Express earlier this year.

A Work and Pensions Department spokesman admitted yesterday: 'These are figures for official errors, so it is down to us. We won't be reclaiming the money.'

Benefits Minster James Plaskitt said: 'Last year the department paid out £110 billion in benefits and over 97% of that was paid correctly and on time.

'We are the first Government to report measures of official error which last year stood at 0.8%. while this is low, we are determined to reduce it further, that is why the Error Taskforce has been set up.'