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Benefits

Volume 457: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the level of overpayment of benefits by his Department was in each of the last eight years. (46155)

[pursuant to the reply, 8 November 2006, Official Report, c. 1613-14W]: The information requested is only available from the fiscal year 2000-01.

The overpayments of benefit are identified in the following table. This is broken down between those that are recoverable under social security legislation, because of claimant error or fraud, and the total, which will include those overpayments that were not recoverable under social security legislation:

£ million

Recoverable

Total

2000-01

363

494

2001-02

328

434

2002-03

304

417

2003-04

278

363

2004-05

307

408

2005-06

365

1464

1 This represents 0.4 per cent. of total benefit expenditure.

The Department initiated a programme in 2001 to bring increased focus to the management and recovery of benefit overpayments. This programme had delivered by 2005 a dedicated debt management organisation, with a new computer system rolled out by February 2006.

This has succeeded in heightening the profile of recovery of overpayments, particularly those arising through fraud or claimant error, which forms the majority of the overpayments that are identified, as shown. As part of this increased profile, the Department now uses private sector companies to help recover debts where the Department's own recovery attempts have been unsuccessful. This reinforces the message that we are taking recovery of debt seriously.

In addition, to help tackle the error problem the Department has taken a three pronged approach:

Set up a dedicated official error reduction task force with the specific aim of achieving demonstrable reductions in official error in short term by December 2006.

Established a dedicated benefit simplification team focused on exploring how the benefit system could be simplified.

Is developing a longer-term error reduction strategy which will set out medium and long term solutions to further improve benefit correctness.