Report CFM481 of the Cabinet Member for Finance.
The Assistant Director for Resources referred to the previous meeting of the Committee when Members were presented with the Annual Counter Fraud Report 2017/18. At that meeting, the Committee requested a further report that included details of the specific preventative fraud activities undertaken by the Council. The Council’s commitment to attain the highest standards of quality, probity, openness and accountability was noted. The report set out the key outcomes from welfare/benefit fraud and explained the nature of all data matching undertaken.
Reference was made to the benefits section where fraud was felt most. Fraud cases were identified in different ways with referrals coming from various sources. One primary channel was through joint working with the Department of Work and Pensions. There were several cases being jointly investigated where allegations of fraud against a claimant had been submitted in respect of a claim for Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Discount.
Referrals were not only received from other departments within the Council such as the Income Recovery Team, Visiting Officers or Housing Officers but also from other authorities. Referrals made by members of the public online, via email or via the phone also played a crucial part in combatting fraud within the Housing Benefit system.
Several data matching tools were used to help combat fraud. Details of these were outlined in the report. The tools identified claimants receiving Housing Benefit or Council Tax Discount when they were not entitled to receive them. The Benefits Team carried out the work in respect of fraud referrals which included identifying overpayments and recovering overpayments created as a result of the fraud.
Reference was then made to the Single Persons Discount (SPD) for sole occupants of a property. There were currently around 30.96% recipients of SPD. To apply, residents were asked to complete a declaration confirming they were the sole adult resident in the property. The Council undertook a biannual county wide counter fraud review alongside other Lincolnshire authorities. Around 19.52% of all SPD Claimants would be contacted in order for them to validate their entitlement. This work was ongoing and was resource intensive but was embedded within the teams. Consideration was being given to reviews being undertaken on an annual basis.
It was estimated that the review would generate around £25,000 financial benefit to the Council. The cost of the review would be split between partners and would be based on the proportionate level of the Council Tax. It was noted that the total estimated revenue generated was a gross figure and not all of it would be retained by the Council. The figure retained by the Council was estimated to be around 10%.
Reference was made to the Real Time Information (RTI) tactical tool that supported the accurate administration of Housing Benefit in respect of a claimant’s earnings. This provided RTI for claimant’s in respect of their or their partner’s earnings, and/or personal pension.
Members were informed of the number of claimants who had either failed to declare, or under-declared earnings, or personal pension. Cases were ranked by the highest value in terms of the discrepancy between earnings or personal pension declared on local authority IT systems and HMRC records. The local authority reviewed cases and, where appropriate, could prevent future overpayments. RTI Files received from the DWP were loaded into the Revenues Benefit system on a monthly basis and dealt with under Housing Benefit legislation.
In response to a Members query about the self-employed review, it was noted that the 12 month period was defined.
Members queried the cost to the Council and it was noted that it was around £10,000 but that did not include the cost to the department. It was emphasised that it was a fraud preventative tool that helped identify and address incidents of fraud.
The Governance and Audit Committee noted the contents of the report and the respective initiatives being undertaken to combat fraud.