Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)


12 OCTOBER 2005

  Q80  Mr Mudie: Mr Varney, with a great deal of respect, this is a family in hardship because of you claiming back overpayments—and they are disputing it. You are asked to stop the repayments until the dispute is settled. That does not need a computer system. That needs a decision from someone in the department with regard to overpayments, for suspension where there is a dispute and there is hardship. Is there a facility outside this computer system to allow that to happen?

  Mr Varney: There is. We are considering at this moment—

  Q81  Mr Mudie: No.

  Mr Varney: Could I please—

  Q82  Mr Mudie: That is—

  Mr Varney: Either I am allowed to respond.

  Q83  Mr Mudie: You say you are considering.

  Mr Varney: If you want a conversation with yourself.

  Q84  Mr Mudie: I have asked you a question: Is it happening?

  Mr Varney: And I am trying to answer it.

  Mr Mudie: Is there a suspension?

  Q85  Chairman: Come on, let us have the answer.

  Mr Varney: We are not currently able to do it with the computer. We are trying to establish a process of manual intervention which does not end up with the same set of issues we have had before on manual interventions which create more problems than they solve. It is not a case of being complacent. I have spent a lot of time on this issue, not surprisingly. As I have said to you, it is an important part of our business and we want to get it right. We have been putting advice as to what the implications are of manual interventions. Manual interventions are not without risk, as I have said.

  Q86  Mr Mudie: When did you tell the Minister about them?

  Mr Varney: We have had a series of correspondence with the Minister, exploring, going back in to see what the computer system can do, trying to bring in specialists to see what we could do with the computer system. The last thing I want to do is hazard the computer system, to lose the ground we have gained in the last 12 months in terms of its stability.

  Q87  Mr Mudie: I understand Mr Gray to say that was going to take 12 months.

  Mr Varney: Yes.

  Q88 Mr Mudie: You are telling this Committee that something asked on 26 May by the Minister, something asked and told to Parliament the following month by the same Minister, about easing hardship to poor individuals/families will not be implemented a year later.

  Chairman: We are talking about whether we can find a manual workaround which we can introduce which will not have adverse consequences.

  Q89  Mr Mudie: I understand that but that is technical stuff for a committee. A family out there who are in dispute with you and are in hardship you cannot manually and will not manually stop the repayments.

  Mr Varney: We can deal with hardship. We have provision to deal with hardship.

  Miss Walker: Yes. In cases of hardship—

  Q90  Mr Mudie: That is what the Minister asked.

  Miss Walker: In cases of hardship we already are able to restore the full amount of the entitlement whether or not there is a dispute about the overpayment and to agree extended terms for the repayment.

  Q91  Mr Mudie: When did that take effect?

  Miss Walker: That has always been the case.

  Q92  Mr Mudie: Why did the Minister ask this?

  Miss Walker: I think the question is broader, about suspending recovery of all the disputed overpayments, whether or not there is actual hardship.

  Q93  Mr Mudie: No, she specifically said "hardship".

  Miss Walker: In that case, that facility is already available.

  Q94  Mr Mudie: Mr Varney has already demonstrated his feelings about the Ombudsman. But the Ombudsman made 12 recommendations in her special report on tax credits. Which of the 12 have not been accepted?

  Mr Varney: I have not made my feelings clear about the Ombudsman. I have been working with her and with her office to improve the delivery of new tax credits, which is actually a shared objective. There is one that has not been accepted, which is the recommendation in terms of the amnesty which she has made.

  Q95  Mr Mudie: Recommendation 10.

  Mr Varney: Yes, 10.

  Q96  Mr Mudie: You have not accepted 11, I presume. Statutory test.

  Mr Varney: We have been asked to give consideration to it.

  Q97  Mr Mudie: You are still considering it.

  Mr Varney: We are still considering it.

  Q98  Mr Mudie: And 12, a different model. Are you just looking at them now?

  Mr Varney: No, I am not just looking at them now but I want to make sure. I could also say you are just looking at them now: you are doing the same as me.

  Q99  Mr Mudie: No, no.

  Mr Varney: I am trying to make sure we are talking about the same clause and the same recommendations. I do not carry them in my head.

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