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Overpayments (Deductions)

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 26 April 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the hardships suffered by individuals of all ranks as a result of the practice of deducting overpayments from subsequent pay; and whether he will now issue instructions that, in all cases where the over-issue was not the fault of the individual concerned, any overpayment is not to be recovered but to be charged against public funds.

The recipient of an overpayment of Army pay or allowances is normally liable, in principle, to meet in full the public claim which is created against him by the overpayment. In cases, however, where the overpayment has been received and spent in good faith and undue hardship would be inflicted by the enforcement of this principle, it is the practice to limit recovery to an amount which the recipient can repay within a reasonable period, and the balance is written off. My right hon. Friend regrets that he is unable to accept the suggestion that in all cases where the overissue was not the fault of the recipient, the public claim against him should be waived entirely.

Will the Minister bear in mind that in civil employment, when wages are overpaid as a result of an error of the management, it is quite exceptional for any attempt to be made to recover the overpayment, and will he also bear in mind that it is the experience of hon. Members who have to deal with these cases that great hardship results from recovering overpayment?

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that the practice he describes is invariable, and it could not be made so in the public service. As to cases of hardship, we are always willing to look at each individual case on its merits.

Will the hon. Member be good enough to see that the earlier part of his answer is communicated to the officials of the Treasury and of the Inland Revenue because, so far as my own constituency is concerned, it is certainly not known and there are a number of cases of refusal on the part of the officials to make any allowance.

Can the hon. Gentleman look at the machinery—there are unquestionably certain hard cases arising—which is put into operation for testing whether they can repay or not, because that is where the fault takes place? Sometimes they take a generous point of view, sometimes they do not.

I should be willing to look at that, but I have myself had experience of a number of these hard cases, and my general experience is that they are reasonably and sympathetically treated.