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Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the government top provider of IT-related disasters, has blamed programming errors for its failure to make payments to about 100,000 low-income families.

The £250 grants should have gone into child trust fund accounts, to top up the £250 payment made to all children.

Kitty Ussher, economic secretary to the Treasury, told a committee of MPs yesterday that the discrepancy between the forecast number of payments and those actually made was due to "an IT technical problem, which we are currently working on with our contractors to resolve".

Ussher said: "This seems to be a technical issue which I, as Minister, was made aware of when I returned from some months' parental leave last week... It is a technical thing. It is due to the way the various computers at HMRC (and I defer to colleagues here) talk to each other around people who are eligible for benefit payments and actually paying them out the additional Child Trust Fund payments."

Ussher said tens of thousands of families were yet to receive payment as a result of the programming error.

She also told the Treasury Select Committee that a separate problem had also affected tens of thousands of families. "I think it is tens of thousands for the IT programming error that we know about. There is an additional discrepancy, which is also tens of thousands, that we have not quite got to the bottom of."

She said she would write to the committee chairman once she knew more. She promised that when payments were made they would include interest.

The uncorrected committee evidence is available here.

HMRC, which has still not found the computer discs containing 25m child benefit records, and was forced to delay the deadline for submitting tax returns this year because its website fell over.

It also emerged today that a simple problem with its website is still stopping many companies getting tax refunds.

Figures released on Monday revealed HMRC is still overpaying tax credits by about £1bn in 2006 to 2007. The Revenue celebrated this as a large reduction from the £2.2bn it lost in 2003 to 2004.

The Lib Dems reckon this means total over payments are now just short of £10bn. ®

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