As part of the Committee’s terms of reference, it is required to monitor and review the counter fraud arrangements in place and the activities that are being undertaken to mitigate those risks.
The Chief Finance Officer presented the Counter Fraud Annual Report for the year 2021/22. The overarching framework had been updated and agreed by the Committee in January 2022. The framework included the following:
· Counter Fraud Strategy,
· Counter Fraud and Anti-Corruption Policy
· Whistleblowing Policy
· Fraud Response Plan
· Anti-Money Laundering Policy
The Chief Finance Officer drew Member’s attention to the Whistleblowing part of the report. The Confidential Reporting Line was managed on behalf of all the districts by the Lincolnshire Counter Fraud Partnership. Some Districts promoted it heavily through their website such as South Kesteven, whilst other Districts had their own local arrangements and this was reflected in the volumes that went through the confidential Reporting Line as different districts had different routes for Whistleblowing. It was noted that there was a reduction in calls by about a third on the previous year for South Kesteven.
All referrals went directly to the Governance and Risk Officer as part of her role and were dealt with accordingly, based on the information provided. Member attention was drawn to paragraph 4.5 of the report which gave a breakdown of the type of allegations received for South Kesteven for 2021/22. As a housing authority 41% of allegations were in relation to housing stock, this did not apply to districts such as East Lindsey and Boston as they did not hold housing stock and highlighted some of the discrepancies between the figures reported.
Reference was then made to the fuel theft which had received a lot of media coverage. Whilst the Police investigation had taken place the Council had been asked not to discuss the matter in public. Following the conclusion of the police investigation a summary of the allegation, the investigation and actions implemented were detailed in the report. Seven actions had been implemented as a result of the whistleblowing investigation, where the internal framework had failed and the mitigations that had been put in place and the lessons that had been learnt from the incident. These were highlighted and detailed within the report together with the financial penalty given to the individual.
The other piece of work that the Council participated in was the Lincolnshire Counter Fraud Partnership (LCFP) which was hosted by Lincolnshire County Council. All Lincolnshire District authorities gave a financial contribution to the partnership which oversaw and jointly collaborated with all the districts in Lincolnshire to share good practice, and share resources on counter fraud initiatives.
The area that the LCPF had most input into was the review of the single person discount in respect of Council Tax liability which gave a 25% financial reduction in Council Tax. It was a self-declaration which could be exposed to potential fraud where people made a declaration which was not appropriate. A review of the single person discount was carried out regularly across Lincolnshire which had a financial advantage to all partners, particularly the County Council who were in receipt of nearly 80% of the Council Tax liability. Different types of Information were joined up such as credit cards, utility bills to check that there was not more than one occupant in a property which generated a gross revenue of £983k.
The Council also took part in the Government’s National Fraud Initiative which was a central and proactive piece of work that involved data matches and finding discrepancies between information held by the Council and other data registers and data bases.
The other areas dealt with Housing Benefit and the Council Tax Support Fund where fraudulent cases were identified through whistleblowing or through the DWP where benefits were being claimed that the recipient was not entitled to have. Members attention was drawn to the table at 8.2 where the number of cases and the amount recovered was shown.
Other work that had been undertaken during the year involved Test and Trace Support Payments and the risk of fraudulent claims, the processes put in place which included spot checks, investigations and interventions to check that only the recipient claimed the money. Another area was Business Rate Relief where the Government was giving money to help communities deal with the pandemic. The expanded Business Rates Retail Discount had been applied for the years 2019/20 and 2020/21 to eligible businesses to help during and following the pandemic. Anti-fraud initiatives were put in place to stop any misuse of the monies given and any inappropriate claims made.
The end of the report detailed the Counter Fraud Action Plan for 2022/23 which continued the work that routinely was undertaken in respect of Counter Fraud with exception of those actions put in place in respect of the pandemic.
The Chairman thanked the Officers for the report and the detail on the fuel theft. He referred to the chart on page 15 and asked for more detail in respect of the whistleblowing categories especially tenancy. The Governance and Risk Officer stated that none of the issues were major and tended to be in relation to occupancy or behaviour, there was currently nothing major within any of the categories shown.
Other Members of the Committee congratulated the Officers on the comprehensive report.
Further questions were asked in relation to;
· The Confidential Whistleblowing Hot Line
· Test and Trace payments
· The fuel theft and why it wasn’t picked up earlier
· Why there was no reference to issues currently happening in the Housing Section – currently the issues were alleged and were being investigated and they could not be discussed.
To which Officers responded.
A Member asked if the Committee could be notified if the money in respect of the fuel theft was repaid by 30 June 2022.
That the Committee are notified if the money in respect of the fuel theft is repaid by 30 June 2022.
The recommendation contained within the report was proposed, seconded and AGREED.
That the contents of the Counter Fraud Annual Report 2021/22 and the proposed workplan for 2022/23 are approved.
Councillor Baxter asked for his vote against the decision be minuted.