‘No repeats’ of Covid scheme overpayments

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Last week it emerged that more than £75,000 was overpaid from the Covid-19-Related Emergency Support Scheme, which was set up to assist workers who had lived in Jersey for fewer than five years and were not eligible for other support during the crisis.

The issues with the scheme were highlighted in a report published by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Lynn Pamment. In total CRESS paid out £550,000 before terminating in August.

Customer and Local Services director-general Ian Burns confirmed that the scheme had been set up in haste, resulting in 13.7% of the total spend being overpayments.

‘Ministers acted swiftly to agree support for Islanders due to the pandemic and CRESS needed to be implemented quickly to ensure financial support for vulnerable individuals, households and children was in place,’ he said.

‘Payments were made within two weeks of the scheme being approved. I am pleased the report acknowledges that an appropriate balance was struck between the speed of response to the claimant and the controls put in place to guard against the risk of inappropriate payments.’

He added: ‘Overpayments arose due to a combination of misunderstanding, incomplete declarations from customers and delays informing the department that they had obtained work. Many of these were identified by retrospective checking of payroll information supplied by employers. It was accepted that this scheme would carry a high level of risk versus other benefit schemes.

‘The CRESS application process confirmed the government would take action to recover any money that applicants received but were not entitled to and repayment agreements are already in place. £25,000 has already been repaid.’

The main government financial support programme during the crisis has been the co-funded payroll scheme, under which public funds have been used to subside staff wages for struggling businesses.

With more than £100 million paid out so far, Mr Burns said that safeguards, including independent audit checks, were built in to prevent a similar level of overpayments.

‘The co-funded payroll scheme has a number of controls that are built in to the claim process that allow us to check eligibility against a number of different data sources,’ he said.

‘In addition, we have also conducted a full detriment audit of claimants for the first two phases of the scheme so far, plus we have been working with one of our professional audit partners, who are conducting a full audit of a number of claims.

‘Government last week published the payment data for the first two phases, which details the payments made to each employer month by month.’

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