Northern Territory public servants received more than $3 million in overpayments last financial year, including one staff member whose bank balance ballooned by $93,000 in a single payroll error, the Auditor-General says.
A total of 2,365 overpayments totalling $3.6 million were made to 1,443 employees during the 2020-21 financial year, according to Julie Crisp’s latest report to NT parliament.
The largest payroll error was a single transaction of $93,771 made in January last year.
By August, none of the staff member’s extra cash had been recovered, Ms Crisp said.
Most of the other overpayments were paid back within four months, but almost $1 million remained outstanding as of August.
The payment errors were attributed to a range of factors, including:
• Staff paid after resignation
• Change of working hours
• Overpayment of allowances
• Staff paid while on leave without pay
• Entitlement conditions set-up incorrectly
• Contract ceased in wrong pay cycle
“My review of the data related to salary overpayments highlights the necessity for management to be vigilant at all times,” Ms Crisp said.
“Management has a responsibility to ensure financial losses are recovered in a timely manner.”
The largest value of overpayments were made by the Top End Health Service, followed by the Education Department, the Central Australian Health Service and NT Police.
Some overpayments taking decades to repay
In addition to the overpayments made last financial year, the Auditor-General also examined historical payment errors that had yet to be rectified.
She said $2.8 million in historical overpayments had not been recovered as of August last year.
One of the cases dated back to 2013, when an employee received $83,246 in overpayments.
So far, about a quarter of the debt has been repaid.
“This employee pays $100 per fortnight to settle the debt, thus the debt is expected to be extinguished in approximately 24 years,” Ms Crisp said.
In total, 10 significant individual overpayments were noted in the report, ranging in size from $44,286 to $93,771.
The oldest repayment obligation, worth $36,807, dated back to 2010, with only a third of the money having been recovered and the last instalment made five years ago.
It is unknown whether any of the debts have been repaid since the Auditor-General conducted her review.
The cause of most historical overpayments was categorised as “unknown”.
“This suggests that better root cause analysis and recording is required in order for agencies to implement improvements to processes and controls to reduce the risk of overpayments and the resultant financial loss to the NT (government),” Ms Crisp said.
Three government agencies, including Education, NT Police and the Department of Corporate and Digital Development, provided responses to the Auditor-General’s findings.
The agencies all said they were reviewing their processes to mitigate overpayments and improve recovery processes.