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Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 12:49 GMT
Woman ordered to pay back four pence

Pennies Mrs George received one payment too many

The Benefits Agency has warned a woman she could face legal action over a debt of four pence.

Pringle George, 58, was told of possible court proceedings if she did not pay back the money and was offered the option of paying by monthly instalments.

What a waste of time. It will cost me more to send the letter
Pringle George
The standard letter arrived after the shortfall was discovered in payments she made following the receipt of incapacity benefit.

Mrs George, of Shore Street, Portgordon, in Banffshire, was forced to take last June and July off sick due to a shoulder injury and received incapacity benefit of 43.16 a week.

She had been working as an accountant at food manufacturers Baxters of Speyside but her injury stopped her from driving or using a computer.

New job after redundancy

Mrs George was made redundant from Baxters while off work and but found a new job as a credit controller at Grampian Country Pork in Buckie.

In November, she was contacted by the Credit Recovery Group of the Benefits Agency in Salford, near Manchester, and informed that she had been overpaid by one week and the Benefits Agency wanted the money back.

Four pennies This is how much Pringle has been told to pay
She agreed to pay the money back by January but misread the amount owed and sent a cheque for 43.12 and not 43.16 as had been stated.

Mrs George said she was shocked when she received a letter at the weekend informing her of the debt and telling her that legal action was being considered.

She said: "In its letter to me the CRG warned that I would be liable for any costs incurred recovering the debt.

"The letter also said that I could repay the money in four monthly instalments. It is a total joke.

'Stamp costs more'

"I will now have to write out a cheque for 4p. What a waste of time. It will cost me more to send the letter. This is bureaucracy gone mad."

Her husband Mike George, also 58, said: "It is a completely farcical situation. It annoys us because so many people commit deliberate benefit fraud which costs the government millions of pounds every year.

"We were trying to be honest and just made a simple mistake and we get threatened with legal action.

"We have a good mind to let them take us to court or offer to pay back the money in instalments.

Standard computer letter

"It was their mistake that Pringle was sent an extra payment in the first place and it took them four months to discover it.

A spokesman for the Benefits Agency said he was unable to discuss individual cases but explained that if the agency received a cheque for the wrong amount the computer automatically produced a generalised letter.

"The computer cannot differentiate between 4p and 400," he said.

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