Almost half a million pounds of British taxpayer - funded aid and equipment has fallen into the hands of al - Qaeda, Britain’s Department for International Development has admitted.

Al - Qaeda’s Somali franchise, al - Shabaab, “confiscated” the equipment from DfID contractors in multiple incidents over at least three months before any action was taken, the Telegraph wrote in a report.

The admission is contained in the small print of the department’s latest accounts, which say that £480,000 worth of “humanitarian materials and supplies” was written off following repeated “confiscations” by al - Shabaab.

The confiscations are one of a series of developments disclosed by the department, which will increase controversy over the British aid budget, the only item of government expenditure that is rising sharply in an era of cuts.

British aid is due to reach about £11billion by 2015, to meet the Government’s promise that aid spending should be 0.7 per cent of gross national income. Critics say the 0.7 per cent figure encourages wasteful spending to meet the target.

Investigations by The Telegraph showed a number of areas of questionable spending and results that are open to question, including how:

* The proportion of British aid spent on the poorest countries has dropped from 80 per cent to just over 65 per cent;

* DfID’s performance has fallen behind its already poor record since the Coalition came to office;

* More than £60million in British aid was paid to countries in Europe in 2011, the last year for which full figures are available;

* British aid money was spent subsidizing hospitality at five star hotels during the Olympics last year.

Sir Gerald Howarth, a Conservative MP, said, “There is huge public concern at the relentless increase in overseas aid.

Incidents like this, where British taxpayers’ money is diverted into people fighting against us, are not acceptable. DfID owes it to the public to exercise the utmost care with its money. ”

DfID refused to specify what the lost supplies were, but an aid industry expert said the value suggested a “huge amount” of material that could keep the terrorists going for a “fairly long time”.

The accounts show the confiscations took place between November 2011 and February 2012 and from multiple locations.

It said an investigation was made into the losses but did not reveal the findings.