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Ludicrous benefit pay-outs to prisoners no laughing matter

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 20/09/2016

Following a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper, it has been revealed that more than £800,000 has been handed out to individuals behind bars
Following a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper, it has been revealed that more than £800,000 has been handed out to individuals behind bars

Some of the blunders of Government officials at Stormont are as inexplicable as they are frequent, but the latest evidence of misuse of public money beggars belief.

Following a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper, it has been revealed that more than £800,000 has been handed out to individuals behind bars.

In the three years to April 2014, there were nearly 600 cases of prisoners receiving Jobseekers Allowance, at a cost of nearly £60,000.

Almost 1,300 prisoners received Employment Support Allowance, to a total of nearly £369,000, and 130 prisoners received Carers Allowance, costing nearly £21,000.

The erroneous payments were made by the former Department for Social Development, but its successor, the Department for Communities, is unable to provide figures for the past two years.

This is because, in spokesperson's tortuous jargon, "We cannot specifically identify the rationale for the overpayment, (and) we are therefore unable to report on a comparable basis."

This reads like part of a script for the satirical television series "Yes Minister" but, unfortunately, this paints a picture of real life at Stormont.

The rationale for the payment of certain benefits is valid enough.

For example, the assumption behind Jobseekers Allowance is that the recipient is actively looking for a job, and in a position to take it up, while Carers Allowance is available to help people carrying out that vital, and often unsung, work.

Yet in the cases which we publicise today, the recipients were unable to carry out any of these tasks simply because they were in prison at Her Majesty's Pleasure at the time. What a shambles.

It is not clear, even yet, if this money paid out in error can be recovered, or what steps were taken to discipline those responsible for the mistakes.

It would be enough to make a cat laugh, but in reality there is nothing funny about such ineptitude.

There is no good time for waste to be incurred in our public finances, but in the current mode of belt-tightening, such blunders are unforgivable.

A large number of prisoners, some of whom have been sentenced for heinous crimes, are literally laughing at the law.

It is high time that this hollow laughter was stopped, and effective measures were taken to claim this money so needlessly thrown away.

Belfast Telegraph

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