Counter Fraud Team Update Report
This report provides Board Members with details of the work carried out by the Counter Fraud Team in the period 1 April to 31 December 2018.
The report and attached Appendix A from the Counter Fraud Manager provided Members with details of the work carried out by the Counter Fraud Team in the period 1 April 2018 to 31 December 2018.
The Counter Fraud Manager expanded on two topics set out in Appendix A to his report:
· Single Person Discounts (SPDs) [Table para 3 agenda p. 28 refers]: The number of SPDs applied by the Council in 2012 was ambiguously high at 13,980 (representing 34.8% of the total number of chargeable dwellings of 40,165). In the intervening years to 2018 the Counter Fraud Team, working in partnership with the Council Tax Team, had deployed effective strategies to reduce fraud and error in this area, and had reduced the total number of SPDs applied in 2018 to 13,734 despite an increase in the total number of chargeable dwellings in 2018 to 45,352. The work undertaken would clearly generate additional tax income for the Council each year, with an estimated £600K in 2018/19;
· Joint Working with DWP: Following the transfer of responsibility for investigating and prosecuting Housing Benefit fraud from local authorities to the DWP in February 2016; Dartford Borough Council had volunteered to join a pilot scheme to re-commence joint working with the DWP in respect of Housing Benefit fraud investigation commencing on 25 February 2019. The new joint-working arrangements would be more balanced however, given the shift in emphasis for his Team (post 2016) to concentrate Council Tax and Business Rate fraud.
In response to specific questions from Members, the Counter Fraud Manager further advised that:
· Requests for a Single Person Discount (SPD) were now pre-examined, which had helped reduce the total number eventually applied. The increase in 1 bedroomed dwellings could be acknowledged as a factor in the decrease of SPDs applied since 2012;
· The renewal of joint-working with the DWP would be absorbed within his Team’s existing structure. Advances in technology had produced efficiencies in how the work of his team was undertaken; with more work done from the desktop as opposed to surveillance work in the field. One draw-back of previously excluding local authority investigators from Housing Benefit fraud investigations was that Single Fraud Investigation staff, working in DWP offices, had no direct access to local authority records.
The Cabinet Member for Strategic Council Finances [attending as a Board Member] noted the work undertaken by the Counter Fraud Team in collaboration with the Revenues & Benefits Department, to check the validity of applications for Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) [para. 2 page 27].
He judged the work to be good value for money, and in his role as Cabinet Member, expressed a willingness to look at a business case for the Council to purchase more technology/IT systems to increase work in this area. He asked if there were any statistics available for the work undertaken by the Counter Fraud Team in combating bogus SBRR applications.
The Counter Fraud Manager confirmed that the Council had already acquired software designed to combat fraud in the SBRR sector. He advised Members that this technology which enabled the team to review all limited companies in England & Wales that had claimed SBRR had already saved the Council £4,500 in potentially lost revenue in one single case alone. Any business case for increased technology would have to be based on the potential for the new technology to pay for itself by detecting further fraudulent claims within the £100M+ total of business rates levied by the Council annually.
1. That Members note the contents of the report as set out in detail in Appendix A;
2. That future reports contain details of Small Business Rate Fraud and that the Counter Fraud Manger consider publishing such statistics to deter offenders;
3. That the Boards thanks and appreciation be conveyed by the Manager to his Counter Fraud Team.