CAMPAIGNERS have called on the Government to repay North-East pensioners thousands of pounds they were cheated out of through computer errors.

The national Campaign against Pensioners' Poverty, based in Newcastle, was reacting to news that about 25,000 pensioners in the region have lost millions of pounds as a result of the mistakes.

Pensions Minister Jeff Rooker, who admitted last week to problems with the computer system involved, conceded that 128,000 pensions nationwide had been underpaid an average of £340 each.

But some pensioners may have lost much more, because the national insurance records system, installed by Andersen Consulting in 1997, has been unable to calculate their payments.

Campaign Against Pensioners' Poverty director David Abrahams said last night: "The Government did apologise about the problem, but we never realised just how much money was involved.

"It was the Tory Government that installed the computers, but the present Government has to take responsibility now.

"We would urge the Government to pay out North-East pensioners before Christmas, as a matter of priority.

"For one, they have the highest heating bills in the country, as £100 to a pensioner is like £1,000 to a working man.

Mr Rooker also disclosed that 5,300 pensioners nationwide had been overpaid a total of £920,000 - an average of £174 each.

The errors are because the computer system set up three years ago is unable to cope with tens of millions of national insurance records.

The Government has promised that all pensioners will eventually get the right payment, some with compensation.

The Department of Social Security has not disclosed how many pensioners had still not been paid.

Mr Rooker has admitted that, each month, the computer is failing to assess 2,300 pensioners accurately, in addition to any backlog.