A Northern Ireland Audit Office Report has revealed that benefit fraud and mistakes in social security payments in the province have hit £22 million.

The shocking statistic was revealed by the Assembly's independent auditor, John Dowdall, who published the report on the performance of the Social Security Agency in recovering debts due to the overpayment of social security benefits.

The report also revealed that over the six year period from 1994 to 2000 the Agency had written-off almost £30 million in benefit overpayments. However, in the last two years the Agency had become more adept at identifying fraud and error because of greater emphasis in this area.

The report concluded that the action taken by the Agency to address the concerns raised by the Committee of Public Accounts in 1993 had had fairly limited success in improving the effectiveness of the debt management process.

In general, the report found that there was substantial scope for improvement in the performance of the Agency's Debt Management Unit and it identifies opportunities for more timely, efficient and effective recovery of outstanding debt.

A spokesperson for the Social Security Agency said that the Agency had received the report from the Audit Office and would be considering the findings in detail.


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