Annual Counter Fraud Update
To consider an update on the work of the Corporate Fraud Investigation Team.
The Committee considered a report which provided an update on the work of the Council’s Corporate Fraud Investigation Team (CFIT) and the main work areas for the new municipal year.
Members were reminded that responsibility for investigating Housing Benefit fraud passed to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Single Fraud Investigation Service (SFIS) on 1 May 2015 and that CFIT was formed on this date. The Committee noted that the following areas of work had remained with the Council:
· Local Council Tax Scheme reduction fraud investigations
· The compilation of information and evidence requested by the DWP in support of a fraud investigation by SFIS
· Amendment to any Housing Benefit claims and the collection of any overpayments
· Participation in the National Fraud Initiative (NFI) for both benefits and Council Tax
· Corporate fraud and error investigations, including tenancy fraud, Council Tax discount fraud and Business Rates avoidance.
CFIT’s initial focus during its first year had been on team building, raising awareness of corporate fraud and establishing internal and external partnerships. However, a range of counter fraud work had been carried out and the Head of Revenues and Benefits referred to four recent case studies which provided examples of this. The meeting was advised that, with regard to the first example, which related to a Council tenant illegally sub-letting her property before purchasing it, the tenant had pleaded guilty and had received a ten month suspended sentence, been required to pay £2,500 costs and return the property to the Council. In reply to a Member’s query the Fraud, Welfare and Partnerships Manager stated that the case had been publicised through a press release and she was personally aware that it had been reported on several occasions on Three Counties Radio.
The Head of Revenues and Benefits drew the Committee’s attention to the following main work areas, to be jointly delivered by CFIT and Internal Audit, for 2016/17:
· Local Council Tax Support (LCTS) fraud
· Housing fraud
· Blue Badge fraud
· Continued fraud awareness across the Council
· Disabled Facilities Grants, Direct payments and care home fees
· School Admissions
· Council Tax and Business Rates fraud
· Proactive Counter Fraud work
In reply to Members’ queries regarding access to the full range of background data on claimants, the Head of Revenues and Benefits and the Fraud, Welfare and Partnerships Manager described the various sources that could be used, on a case by case basis, and the team’s relationship with particular bodies. In response to a further query regarding operational security and the use of an information analyst the Fraud, Welfare and Partnerships Manager set out the team’s operational procedures and the security measures that were taken whilst the Head of Revenues and Benefits explained that consideration was being given to making use of a single, well defined version of the data held in the form of a ‘golden record’ for analytical purposes.
Given CFIT’s success in recovering monies obtained by fraudulent means a Member asked whether an increase in staff numbers could generate the recovery of even larger amounts of money. Discussion followed during which the Chief Finance Officer explained that additional staff had already been, or were in the process of being, appointed in other areas within Revenues and Benefits. Whilst he could not reject the possibility of further appointments to CFIT he stressed that the team was only a year old. In addition, forthcoming changes to Housing Benefits meant the future workload levels for Housing Benefits Officers were uncertain and an opportunity to transfer staff to CFIT might arise.
In conclusion, and on behalf of the Committee, the Chairman congratulated the Head of Revenues and Benefits and his team for the excellent results arising from the team’s first year of operation. He asked that the report be made available to all Members through the Members’ Bulletin.
the update on the work of the Corporate Fraud Investigation Team for 2015/16 and the main areas of work identified for 2016/17.