§ 23. Mr. de Freitas
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that Mr. Walter Duncombe, aged 78, of 16, Bell Grove, Lincoln, was in 1947 overpaid post-war credits to the extent of £15 3s. 7d., and that, in February, 1960, Her Majesty's Inspector of Taxes demanded repayment of this sum; and how far it is the practice to demand the repayment of sums so long after a mistake has been made by his Department.
The payment of post-war credits made to Mr. Walter Duncombe in 1947 included £15 3s. 7d. belonging to another person of the same name. The overpayment was discovered when a claim was received from the true owner of the credit and Mr. Duncombe was thereupon invited to make a refund. It is normal practice to invite a refund when an overpayment is discovered, but in view of Mr. Duncombe's circumstances and the length of time that has elapsed, the matter will not be pursued further in his case.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am very grateful for that decision, but is it really the practice of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, thirteen years after a mistake has been made in the Department, to go after recovery of a sum like this?
As I said, the practice is to notify the person who has been wrongly paid and invite repayment. What the action will be after that will depend on the circumstances.
§ Mr. Houghton
This mistake has been made, but is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that last year was a peak year for the repayment of postwar credits and over 1 million extra post-war credits were repaid in the months June to October inclusive? Can he tell the House how many mistakes have been drawn to his attention and whether any cases similar to that of Mr. Duncombe have been reported to him?
I agree that well over 1 million cases have been dealt with and well over £60 million has been paid during the past financial year so far. The number of cases involving mistakes by the Inland Revenue brought to my notice is insignificant; it is very small indeed. I am advised that, within memory, going back further than this year, perhaps three or four cases of overpayment or wrong payment of this kind have been brought to the attention of Ministers. I am very proud indeed of the way the Inland Revenue Department manages to handle this work additionally to the great volume of normal work which it has to dispose of.
I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer I gave to him and the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) on 15th March.
§ Mr. Dodds
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, last week, he was in some doubt about what he said in his Budget proposals? Will he refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT of 7th April, in which he is recorded as saying:I propose, however, to seek enabling powers 10 permit the repayment of credits by statutory order, so that if, later in the year, financial and economic circumstances were such as to justify going further, I should be able to make a proposal to this effect."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1959; Vol. 603, c. 61.]In view of that very optimistic statement which people noted before a General Election, will he drop his look of injured innocence and tell us why no further repayments were made?
In spite of the imputation which the hon. Gentleman makes, I will confine myself to pointing out that that was an appropriately cautious statement which I then made.
Mr. H. Wilson
I do not expect the Chancellor to anticipate his Budget statement, but, since the time for it is drawing very near, will he once again agree to look at the point which has been pressed very strongly from both sides of the House, that, in looking at these regulations, he should take account of the 221 great hardship entailed in insisting upon the unemployability supplement as a condition for payment in cases of long sickness and disability?
That is one of the factors which I have in mind in considering the possible extension of these hardship cases. During the course of our discussion of the Finance Bill last summer, I did ask that I should not be pressed to extend the hardship categories that year, but I said that, when we had experience gained from the completion of that instalment, I should look sympathetically at the matter again. That is what I am in course of doing, as I told the hon. Member when I said that I had the matter under examination.