Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein seeks assurance that Housing Executive will recover misspent £400k

Kieran Donnelly, Comptroller and Auditor General
Kieran Donnelly, Comptroller and Auditor General

By Staff Reporter

Sinn Fein has said it will be seeking assurances from the Housing Executive (NIHE) that nearly £400,000 of taxpayers' money paid out for ground maintenance on land it no longer owned or which had changed use will be handed back.

Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that £377,000 was paid out - £280,000 to one contractor and £97,000 to the NIHE's own in-house outfit - for grounds maintenance services.

A report from the Northern Ireland Audit Office revealed that if it were not for whistleblowers, the overpayments would have been at least £1.3m.

Kieran Donnelly, Comptroller and Auditor General, said the computer system NIHE used for land records was also used to generate grounds maintenance payments to contractors.

"Land that had been disposed of by NIHE, or had a change of use, had not been recorded, resulting in overpayments to grounds maintenance contractors," he said in his report investigating the matter.

Sinn Fein housing spokeswoman Caral Ni Chuilin MLA yesterday expressed concern that the failure to update IT systems had led to the overpayments.

"Overpayments were made to two contractors," she said.

"The Housing Executive has multimillion pound contracts with these companies, one of which with the Direct Labour Organisation, which is part of the Housing Executive, and both are set to run up to 2024.

"I would think this would give ample opportunity for a reasonable repayment agreement to be made between the Housing Executive and contractors.

"I will be seeking assurances from the Housing Executive that this is indeed the case.

"At a time when every pound must be made to count, it is disheartening that this error occurred and could have been undetected without the intervention of whistleblowers."

The NIHE has already stated that it is "currently considering recovery options in terms of payments". The investigation found there was no fraud on the part of the contractors involved.

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