UK Politics

Records of civil service pension payments 'unacceptable' admit officials

Woman passes a street sign on Whitehall
Image caption The main civil service scheme has more than 900,000 active and deferred members

Inadequate records of civil service pension payments are "unacceptable", the government has said after a spending watchdog raised concerns.

The National Audit Office qualified the accounts of the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme after Whitehall was unable to provide certain information.

The Cabinet Office said that record-keeping had been "lacking" in the past but improvements had been made.

Officials stressed correct payments had been made in nearly all cases.

Auditors refused to fully sign off the 2011 civil superannuation accounts, which detail the financial results of the main civil service pension scheme.

Pensions in the final-salary scheme are linked to length of service and salary. In March 2011, there were 564,000 active members and 352,000 deferred members.

The National Audit Office said the evidence it needed to calculate whether all members of the scheme and their beneficiaries had received correct payments had not been provided.

It also said "insufficient evidence" had been provided to reassure Auditor General Amyas Morse that the scheme £144bn liability - the estimated amount needed to cover members' future payments - was reasonable.

While record-keeping had improved "significantly", it said 6% of payments analysed could not be corroborated by relevant documents and action was needed to "identify gaps in historic records".

It also warned that proposed changes to the scheme due to come into force in 2015, which would see entitlements based on career-average earnings rather than final-salary and increased contributions, "may increase the risks identified".

'Historic information'

In response, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: "It's no surprise that the National Audit Office has qualified the accounts because, in the past, pension record-keeping within government has been lacking."

"In this instance, we were unable to provide the National Audit Office with sufficient historic information within the timescale set. This is not acceptable."

Officials said the government would work with the departments concerned and the firm which administers the pension scheme to improve record-keeping and administration.

But it added: "This does not mean we have been paying the wrong benefits.

"Of those cases where the data was available within the timescales, the NAO was able to confirm that in all but two cases out of a sample of 90 the benefit payments were correct."

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