12/12/2012 01:55 EST | Updated 02/11/2013 05:12 EST

New Brunswick government collects $500,000 in social assistance overpayments

FREDERICTON - The government of New Brunswick has recovered more than $500,000 in social assistance overpayments in the past year, the province's minister of social development said Wednesday.

That comes from an estimate of $14.5 million in social assistance overpayments that could be collected in all, Madeleine Dube said.

"If there is an overpayment, for one reason or another, the government will try to recoup that money," Dube said.

"I think it is fair for taxpayers to repay it if you have the possibility to do so, and at the same time ensure the program is there for those who need it."

Dube said her department will work with former social assistance recipients to ensure they are in a position to repay the funds.

In November 2011, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs said there was a potential to collect $200 million from a variety of overdue accounts.

He said the government would target unpaid vehicle fines, court fines, social assistance overpayments and unpaid loans or bills for the Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Departments.

Later in the day, New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy issued a statement accusing the Department of Social Assistance of not following its own policy for reclaiming overpayments.

He said the overpayments can only be reclaimed within 12 months of the overpayment being made.

However, Jason Humphrey, a department spokesman, said Cardy isn't looking at the entire policy.

He said while there is a 12-month limit for overpayments caused by an administrative error, there is no time limit to recoup overpayments resulting from fraud or failure to report income.

Humphrey said of the 3,400 former clients who had overpayments, the major reason is failure to report income.