Benefits Agency gives out £1bn in error

20 Jan 00
Inaccurate income support and jobseekers allowance payments by the Benefits Agency totalled almost £1bn in 1998/99, figures published by the National Audit Office have revealed.

21 January 2000

Income support accounted for £637m of this, a sum equivalent to more than 5% of expenditure, and an increase of £81m on the previous year's inaccurate payments. The vast majority of this figure – £426m – were overpayments.

The jobseekers allowance errors, which totalled £244m, showed an even bigger rise – of £137.4m. Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said he had 'no alternative' but to qualify the accounts for the eleventh consecutive year.

'The levels of both [fraud and error] are unacceptably high,' said Sir John. He added the Benefits Agency faced a 'significant challenge' in seeking to achieve real change.

The large increases have occurred despite the agency putting a quality support team into place to improve the accuracy of payments.

This team visited each of the Benefit Agency's 13 districts twice during 1998/99.

There were vast regional differences in payments. Only two – East of Scotland and Wales – met the government's target of accurate payments in 87% of cases.

This meant the 11 other regions fell below the target. The worst offender was the Chilterns, which had only a 76% success rate.

Fraud levels also remain high. Almost £103m was lost to fraud by the agency, which includes child benefit and family credit payments under its remit.


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