Gardai did not have a single staff member assigned to chase up €2 million in overpayments in salaries and pensions, audit report reveals

GARDAI have been overpaid by almost €2 million in pay and pensions but the force does not have enough staff available to get the money back.

An internal audit report has revealed that chunks of the money will end up being written off because of difficulties in recovering it.

The report on financial controls, prepared for Garda Commissioner Noirí­n O’Sullivan and obtained under FOI, also said there were not enough staff to recoup the money.

At one stage, not a single person was responsible for collecting the significant amount of money owed.

The internal auditors said the figure had grown substantially in recent years as closer scrutiny of payroll had begun.

That suggests that the true scale of overpayment may well be even higher even while virtually no effort was being made to get it back.

The report from March this year explained that the “Recoupment Unit” had at one stage been beefed up following a critical internal audit.

However, by October 2016 there was not a single person working there, and later only one half-time position allocated after internal audit again raised concerns.

The report said: “It is essential that as a matter of urgency and until the balances have been reduced to a more acceptable level that a staff complement of at least three full time equivalent staff … should be provided to this unit on a permanent basis.

“It is likely that write-offs for some of this debt will be required but every effort should be made to recoup as much of this outstanding balance as possible.”

It said the overpayments occurred for a variety of reasons including people being paid higher salaries than they were entitled to and “late notifications regarding payroll adjustment events such as unpaid leave, allowances, sick leave and rates of pay”.

Also problematic were overpayments of pensions to deceased former members where people continued to be paid long after they died.

Social welfare benefit retention was also an issue where members received “welfare payments … directly” when they should have gone to the gardai.

Overall, €1.9 million was found to have been overpaid, an increase from how much was owed the previous year of more than €375,000.

The report said: “The total increase in this figure from 31 March 2013 to 30 June 2016 is €1,219,742 or an increase of 210%.”

The report is heavily redacted in parts with one entire section of the “significant issues” identified withheld from public view.

Large parts of the conclusion, including findings relating to the garda college, have also been kept secret.

The report also reveals how the internal audit of the gardai is feeling the strain because of a lack of staff. Of the audit plan for 2016, only 79% of it was completed “due to staff vacancies”.

The approved manpower for the section is eleven but only eight were employed while a professional accountant position had been unfilled for six years.

The report also said the internal audit unit had been under pressure because so much time had been spent dealing with legal issues over the financial fiasco at the Garda College at Templemore.

Overall, the report found that there were no less than 37 priority one recommendations — the highest level available — that needed “immediate attention”.

Problems with the availability of gardai for frontline policing were also identified in audits of three separate policing divisions around the country.

Of 435 gardai on duty on the day of the audit, only 195 were available for “patrolling and high visibility policing”.

The report concluded: “It is essential … that more uniformed staff are moved to the normal roster of patrolling, crime prevention and high visibility policing.

“It is unsatisfactory that administrative roles continue to be assigned to garda members that could more appropriately be undertaken by civil servants.”

In a statement, the Garda Press Office said overpayments of salaries and pensions were notified to human resources on a quarterly basis.

They said: “The pursuit of overpayments of garda pensions is a matter for the Department of Justice … Financial Shared Services Centre.

“An Garda Sí­ochána has established an Overpayments Management Unit. When an overpayment of a garda salary is notified, the … Unit liaises with the employee, informing them of the overpayment and arranging for its recoupment.

“It is expected that the staff member concerned will reply within 14 days agreeing a repayment plan. However, a standard deduction of 10% of gross salary may be established where staff fail to engage.

“Individual circumstances are always considered and discretion in utilising this facility is used, particularly in circumstances where the staff member is on sick leave and may be pay affected.”

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