From The Sunday Times December 9, 2007 Soldiers are cheated in pay blunder Michael Smith and Marie Woolf THOUSANDS of servicemen and women, including many fighting on the front line, are being underpaid because of failures in a new computerised pay system. Some soldiers have gone without full pay for up to five months and, with Christmas only weeks away, are being forced to turn to regiment hardship funds to cover household bills. Special forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as ordinary soldiers have been hit by the fiasco. For some officers, it is costing £580 a month. This weekend the Ministry of Defence admitted that more than 16,000 members of the forces were underpaid in August, the latest month for which official data is available. Two-thirds of an entire intake of officers who graduated from Sandhurst three years ago are still being paid their junior rank despite being promoted - an underpayment of £19 a day or £580 a month. Problems are so widespread that members of the Special Boat Service recently complained about the pay delays to Lord Boyce, the former chief of defence staff, when he visited them on the front line in Afghanistan. One officer recently back from Iraq said that while he and his friends from the Army Staff College had all been promoted to captain, many were still being paid as lieutenants months later. I havent been paid properly for months and two-thirds of the officers I graduated with from Sandhurst are in the same boat, the officer said. I cant tell you the full scale of it but from my experience it is chaos. There are lots of soldiers not being paid properly and units are having to dig into hardship funds to help their wives pay the gas bill. It is not only full-time soldiers but also reservists who have been affected. The chaos is such that thousands of soldiers have also been overpaid, with the money having to be clawed back. Many have spent the money unaware that they would have to repay it, leaving them short of money. According to the MoD, a total of 38,529 were wrongly paid between April and August, the only months for which the ministry has full figures. The computer system, known as Joint Personnel Administration (JPA), was introduced in March last year in the Royal Navy and saw a flood of complaints from sailors not being paid their full pay. The RAF was taken on to the system in October last year, followed by the Army in April this year. The £250m system was implemented by EDS, which was widely criticised for its computerisation of the Child Support Agency. One of the key problems with the system is that it requires senior officers to log in to authorise payments, which means that if they are away on operations, the whole procedure grinds to a halt. The system is based on the design for a civilian pay system and takes no account of the complexities of the armed forces pay system, one officer said. The MoD, however, denied that the need for officers to authorise payments was a factor but admitted there had been errors. As with anything new, a degree of unfamiliarity with both the system and the proc-esses which support JPA has led to input errors, which in turn has affected pay accuracy, a spokesman said. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was embroiled in a fresh spin row over his claim in October that 1,000 British troops would be home by Christmas, as it emerged that since the beginning of September the number of troops in Iraq has been reduced by only 120.