Education authority wrote off €100k in payments

An education authority decided it was more prudent to write off more than €100,000 it overpaid in error to apprentices than continue chasing repayments.

The decision of City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB) was not contested by further education and training authority Solas, despite the loss to taxpayers.

The circumstances were outlined last month to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee by CDETB chief executive Carol Hanney, who said the cost of recouping money has to be balanced against the amount of money outstanding.

The board’s 2015 financial statement said it was noticed in September 2015 that over-payments were being made to aircraft mechanic apprentices since the start of 2014.

A full review confirmed the 2014 intake of apprentices were paid the wrong rate, and a wider review of all apprentice payments since January 2014 uncovered further overpayments. Eight refrigeration apprentices and one motor apprentice had been overpaid an average of €940 each.

The bulk of overpayments were to the aircraft mechanic apprentices, and 29 had received a total of €93,618 more than they should have between January 2014 and September 2015. It worked out at an average of over €3,200 each.

Ms Hanney told TDs at the PAC that measures to try and recoup the money were put in place as soon as the overpayments were identified.

“But, at this stage, the apprentices had actually finished in the training centre. Quite a lot of efforts were put into contacting them in different ways but it was unsuccessful,” she said.

The committee was told measures taken included sending letters, making phone calls and contacting the apprentices’ employers.

“Eventually those exceptional overpayments were written off. It was considered prudent to write them off and we talked to Solas about that and they noted that as well,” Ms Hanney said during a hearing on the board’s 2015 accounts.

The write-off was decided on foot of a report to CDETB in October 2016, pointing out that efforts throughout the previous year resulted in no money being received and no payment plans entered into by any of the 28 people identified as being overpaid.

Fine Gael TD Noel Rock asked Ms Hanney if the board had developed any more advanced processes beyond what, he said “quite clearly” had not worked.

She said it is probably easier to stop such overpayments happening again than to recoup the money.

“We’ve put measures in place to hopefully ensure it won’t happen again. It is very difficult to recoup, you can write to people, you can go so far and then you have to balance the cost of recouping versus what you’re recouping as well,” she said.

CDETB’s 2015 accounts said factors behind the overpayments included its own administration errors, which were partly due to anomalies in correspondence from Solas to employers. It also referred to “subsequent confusion” about phase numbers, and Ms Hanney told the PAC the 2014 intake of aircraft mechanic apprentices was the first on a new version of the scheme to reach “phase 4”.

Other contributory factors outlined by CDETB included the limited opportunity for Solas to provide briefings about a new system for the “version 3” apprenticeship, with a lead-in time of under two weeks compared to the normal eight.

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