Current and former staff of the collapsed firm, Drake Insurance, risk a shortfall in their occupational pensions following an administrative bungle.

Drake was put into provisional liquidation in May this year and trustees were appointed to run the pension and life assurance plan.

Pension administrator Aon Consulting discovered after an actuarial valuation that Drake had, through an oversight, been underpaying the fund and a new schedule of contributions was drawn up.

But the standing order sent to increase the payments was not acted upon by bankers, leading to what trustees Hogg Robinson estimate as a £153,000 shortfall by May 11, 2000.

Liquidator Deloitte Touche stressed there was no deliberate attempt to underpay. A spokesman said: “There's no suggestion of subterfuge. It was a combined error of Aon, Drake and banker Natwest.”

The administrators, liquidators and trustees are working with the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) to get the pension plan put right.

But if the money cannot be recovered from Drake, there is no guarantee the government will stump up.

Joe Robertson, regulations director at the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority, said whether pension contributors are paid in full depends on how much is recoverable.

He said the DTI only guaranteed continued payments for existing pensioners. He added that for other employees or former employees, “it may be that individuals won't get all the benefits they expect.”

One ex-employee of Drake, who asked not to be identified, said: “This is an extremely worrying situation for me. There could be a lot of money at stake.”