ESSEX Fire Authority has denied it has jumped the gun in deciding how to pay off a £15million debt.

Earlier this week the authority announced it owed the Government the cash as it had miscalculated injured firefighter pensions since 2006.

It decided to use all of its reserves to pay off the debt, which it had not known it had owed until the Department for Communities and Local Government wrote it.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government had said it was too early to say what the full impact of the mistake would be.

He said: "This is a very technical issue about an auditing procedure and the rules on pension administration.

"Essex have jumped the gun, given absolutely no decision has been made on this issue, and it is something that the department will be discussing with the fire authority in more detail in due course."

Accounts have been submitted to the Audit Commission and DCLG each year but both also failed to pick up on the liability.

An Essex County Fire and Rescue spokesman the authority had previously told the DCLG how it planned to pay off the debt and that it would be announcing it, prior to the Government department’s response.