The National Audit Office has qualified its audit opinion on the Benefit Agency’s accounts for the eleventh time in a row. NAO chief Sir John Bourn’s action over the 1998-99 appropriation accounts follows hard on the heels of a public accounts committee’s findings on his reports on the accounts for 1997-98 and earlier years involving a total of £2bn in ‘gross miscalculation’ of income support and job seekers’ benefits. He said there had been ‘some improvement’ in accuracy in volume terms of both allowances, but identified a further increase in the gross level of error to £882m, with wide variations in different regions of the UK. East London and Anglia, Chilterns and South London areas failed to reach 80% of accuracy, blaming difficulties recruiting and keeping quality staff and the increased complexity of assessments. Only East Scotland exceeded the target rate of 87% for accuracy. Sir John said he did not under-estimate the scale of the agency’s task in tackling fraud and error, but ‘the levels of both are unacceptably high’.
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