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County council saved £2m in counter-fraud operations

Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council

Northumberland County Council saved almost £2million through its counter-fraud work last year.

A report to the county council’s audit committee said that 2017-18 was ‘another successful year’, showing gross savings of £1.94million (net £1.75million).

The council’s corporate fraud team covers both internal and external fraud, with the majority of cases of the latter largely related to council tax.

Of the 868 referrals during the last financial year, 514 were related to council tax, while another 204 were to do with tenancy.

Fraudulent overpayments of council tax support totalled around £45,000,  with a further £7,000 related to single person discounts and £13,000 on small business rate relief.

While the council no longer has a remit to investigate housing benefit fraud, it often comes to light through council-tax investigations, which last year identified overpayments of housing benefit of £58,000.

The majority of the money saved by the team came through housing and tenancy work.

Scrutiny of 71 Right to Buy applications resulted in 23 being withdrawn, resulting in a total saving of just under £900,000 which would have been allowed as a discount to the property purchase price.

Meanwhile, a further six Homes for Northumberland properties have been recovered due to the tenants being non-resident, with this being worth a minimum of £900,000 to the council.

During the year, there were 18 referrals in relation to potential internal

fraud, of which all have been the subject of investigations to varying degrees.

Most were closed with no formal action, but four – involving allegations of theft, abuse of position and false representation – are being considered for legal action.

Elsewhere, the team has successfully recovered, in full, an overpaid salary amount of £4,350, while agreements have been entered into in relation to the same issue totalling £6,623.

Other work includes cancelling Blue Badges which had remained live despite the holders dying and checking for false information on school allocation applications – with three school places being withdrawn in 2017-18.

The committee report explains: ‘The council is committed to providing an effective anti-fraud service which is supported by efficient policies and sanctions for those that offend.

“Counter-fraud is the responsibility of everyone in the council and by ensuring that effective measures are in place to prevent, detect, investigate and report fraud we can ensure that public money is spent where it should be, on services for the community.”

By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service