Highways England is bringing all claims following Damage to Crown Property (DCP), in-house. Rather than the contractor retaining sub-£10,000 claims, the Authority is now paying many of these too and responsible for recovering monies from at-fault parties. How are these claims, 1,000’s of them, checked pre-payment to ensure accuracy?
Most are not!
Below £25,000 bills are rubber-stamped for payment, passed to their recovery unit for the Area which then demands the full sum … hoping that the amounts sought are accurate. However, we have never seen a correctly priced invoice from Kier (as an example). Whilst it appears drivers, fleets, hauliers of their insurers (Third Parties) are the Authority’s audit facility, expected to review, consider, question, negotiate and settle matters, this presents a problem for Highways England; each claim is inaccurate. Additionally, the costs paid likely comprise some aspects which are settled out of habit but not incurred, with other activities potentially already paid for once by the Authority!
It appears Highways England understands, dealing with one of the less sophisticated ends of the construction industry, the claim paperwork will not stand up to scrutiny. Their answer; withhold the evidence!
The Authority demand and receive a mass of data, likely 60+ pages – as evidenced by their ‘TR430’ process – pre-payment. Conversely, a Third-Party can expect little documentation upon which to reconcile a demand as ‘the devil is in the detail’. Instead, they are expected to settle on a ‘finger in the air’ basis i.e. ‘looks about right’. But it is not.
And if a Third Party does raise questions? Odds on the Authority will struggle to acquire information from its contractor … they have been paid in full and now lack claim staff. To one such matter, the Authority replied:
Further to my last email … we are still awaiting a response from our contractor in response to your issues raised.
We asked them to review and amend the cost pack as necessary.
Whilst we have sympathy for the plight of Highways England, the lack of cooperation from their suppliers, we responded:
‘ …given the clear evidence of charges made for Central Reservation works that are unrelated, we expect Highways England are able to re-calculate, the insurers pay for what they are liable i.e. near-side damage, and HE can recover the overpayment from their supplier at leisure.
Surely HE is the authority and has all relevant rates and data to be able to task the QS or similar to recalculate and demand a refund on the overpaid sum from the Contractor.
I will not go into the clear concerns of the failure of HE to have identified this error and having rubber-stamped the original payment …’
It remains to be seen whether Highways England can obtain any information and/or the contractor be asked to make reimbursement.
Documents typically associated with an incident, attendance and its repair can be found here.
CMA ref Y05B176