In response to the National Audit Office report published today on fraud and official errors in pension and benefit payments, Alliance Finance Spokesman, Cllr Seamus Close MLA (Lagan Valley) stated:
“I am very disappointed at the upward trend in the levels of overpayment through fraud and error in the Department of Social Development. The latest report from the National Audit Office shows that these figures have doubled from £26.7 million in 2000/1 to £53.2m in 2002/3.
“The estimated fraud and error in retirement pensions alone has escalated from just under £8m to just under £40m. How can this happen on such a grand scale? Is it fair to suggest that fraud and error at this level couldn’t operate without orchestrated paramilitary involvement?
“This means that over a million pounds a week of taxpayers’ money is going on fraud or error. Whilst strategies were put in place during the time of the Assembly to curb and correct fraud and error it is clear that these aren’t working. It is a clear demonstration that government by remote control just doesn’t work.
“We need a strong watchdog, because it appears that when the cat’s away, the mice will play, and errors of this type are not acceptable.
“Attention must also be drawn to the fact that there have been benefit underpayments due to error to the tune of almost £6 million. It must be remembered that this is impacting on the most vulnerable in society. They haven’t received that which they are entitled to, and that is equally disgraceful.”