Civil service owes the State €7.5m in salary overpayments

PAC chair says the figure owed is ‘substantially higher’ than previously thought

Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy has said the amount of uncollected overpayments from the civil service at the end of 2016 was €7.5m. Photograph: Frank Miller

Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy has said the amount of uncollected overpayments from the civil service at the end of 2016 was €7.5m. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The State is owed at least €7.5 million from salary overpayments made to public sector staff that have not been repaid, a “substantially higher figure” than was previously thought, Seán Fleming, chair of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC), has said.

It was initially thought about €4.6 million was owed to the State from civil service salary overpayments that had not been recouped by the end of 2016. The figure, however, only relates to overpayments by public bodies under the National Shared Services Office (NSSO), which was set up in 2014 to centralise the public service payroll.

Seamus McCarthy, the Comptroller and Auditor General, outlined to the committee in recent days how there was several public bodies under the C&AG’s oversight that had not brought their payroll services under the NSSO at the time.

When these public bodies were included Mr McCarthy said the amount of uncollected overpayments at the end of 2016 was €7.5 million. Several of those bodies have since come under the centralised national payroll office.

However, the total figure is higher still across the civil service as the €7.5 million does not include staff working in the Health Service Executive, school teachers, or local authority staff.

Last year overpayments to staff in the HSE alone accounted for a further €2 million, half of which related to payment errors regarding overtime hours.

‘Big exclusions’

The additional amount of outstanding payments was revealed when the NSSO was before the PAC on Thursday. Speaking at the committee, Mr McCarthy said the original €4.6 million figure had a “number of big exclusions” where public bodies were not taken into account.

Seán Fleming, chair of the PAC, said the spending watchdog would be requesting a breakdown of the uncollected debts in each public body from the NSSO. “We’re interested in seeing which department is the biggest source of the problem” he said.

Mr Fleming said before the Government started to centralise payroll services “departments hadn’t a great record of chasing up overpayments” and recouping public money owed back from staff was “hit and miss”.

Hilary Murphy-Fagan, chief executive of the NSSO, said the service was “still finalising” the updated figure for outstanding overpayments up to the end of 2017. She told the committee “my expectation is we’ve slightly reduced the number of [overpayment] incidents” but it was too early to confirm.

The committee heard overpayments commonly occur when a civil servant may take unpaid sick leave that is not reconciled in the payroll accounts, leading to the member of staff receiving payment for the time off.