Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland civil servants redundancy awards recalculated after £220,000 error

By Brett Campbell

Hundreds of former civil servants have had their redundancy awards recalculated following an error which has cost the government an additional £220,000.

In March, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the Department of Finance (DoF) had written to former staff who left under the Voluntary Exit Scheme (VES) asking them to pay back money due to mistakes made in working out their redundancy.

It can now be revealed that 31 of the nearly 4,000 employees who have left under the £109m scheme launched in 2015 were overpaid by £50,162 in total.

It has also emerged 210 individuals who were underpaid have received additional payments which exceed £150,000 in total.

"The vast majority of these are in relation to the normal processes regarding retrospective pay awards and around £170,000 has been paid out," a departmental spokesperson said.

Earlier this year the department defended its decision to issue dozens of letters asking individuals to repay an average amount of £1,618, stating that it "is obliged to seek recovery" in accordance with the manual for Managing Public Money.

But Jim Allister MLA expressed serious doubts as to whether or not the letters are legally enforceable and accused government officials of trying to punish former employees for their own mistake.

He branded the move as "unconscionable" and said the department should instead be "forced to go after people through the courts" for what he described as a "contract dispute".

The DoF refused to confirm if any money has been repaid since the letters were issued. "This exercise is ongoing," a spokesperson said. The spokesperson was unable to confirm if all issues have been resolved or offer any reassurance that awards will not be subject to further revision.

It comes after the department apologised to one former employee who was asked to pay back more than £1,000 in March before being notified last week that the request was issued in error and based on incomplete data. According to the latest letter, they no longer owe any money.

A DoF spokesperson previously denied the overpayments occurred as a result of any error and said it was due to data from April 1, 2015 not being available on a new computer system.

Instead, projections were made using data held on March 31.

But a letter seen by the Belfast Telegraph at the time stated "the old computer system miscalculated" an award.

Ex NIPSA union chief Bumper Graham has repeated his call for the government to write off the "complicated" debt for which "no recovery should have been sought" in the first place.

Belfast Telegraph

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