Benefit blunders pay £1 million to just 10 people

Candy Bellinger

A series of benefits office blunders could, once again, leave taxpayers out of pocket. New figures obtained by the Conservatives reveals a number of mistakes by officials in which a massive £1 million was incorrectly paid to just 10 people.

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It is estimated that overpayments currently cost the Department of Work and Pensions in the region of £800million a year and as they face an almost impossible task in recovering the money, it is taxpayers once again who are likely to foot the bill.

In fact, mistakes by benefits officials could cost us almost as much as those pesky benefit fraudsters we hear so much about. And for the individual who was overpaid an astonishing £136,567 things might not seem so rosy now as the department looks set to sue some of the recipients.

But the figures only include cases in which the claimants received overpayments as a result of mistakes by staff. Added together these 'errors' and the money lost to fraudulent claims amounts to £3billion – and that is around 2.2 per cent of the total benefits bill.

Whilst the Tory party was, as expected, quick to criticise, the Government claims that it is hoping to reduce the figure from 2.2 per cent to 1.8 per cent by March next year. Minister for pensions reform Helen Goodman has already set up a task force to tackle benefit debtors who owe the department over £10,000. She told the Daily Mail: "Since its inception, the task force has recovered an additional £1.2million between mid-October 2009 and early January 2010 from the high value debtors."

The problem is, almost all of that recovered money has been lost by bungling officials. So would the taxpayer's cash be better spent trying to improve the system and clamp down on errors than in chasing claimants who have been overpaid?