Covid crisis could open door to fraud, claims council report
The coronavirus crisis could “open the door” to fraudsters seeking to exploit the council, as they believe “money is available and controls may not be as strong as normal”, a report says.
Telford and Wrekin Council has a dedicated two-person investigation team whose work saved the authority nearly £176,000 last year in areas including housing benefit, council tax and corporate fraud.
The borough’s 2019-20 Corporate Anti-Fraud and Corruption Report and Policy Update says the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about “one of the main challenges” for this year. The potential for fraud is “most notable” in the awarding of business grants, they add, and “extensive post-award checking” will be needed.
The document will be discussed by the council’s Audit Committee next week.
It says: “One of the main challenges for 2020-21 is to understand how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on the fraud risks to the authority.
“Unfortunately, situations such as these can open the door to those who seek to exploit organisations where they believe money is available and controls may not be as strong as normal due to the exceptional circumstances.
“This could be most notable in the awarding of business grants where extensive post-award checking will be required due to the level of perceived fraud in this area.”
The report says the authority has one senior investigation officer and an assistant, responsible for “investigating fraud, error and irregularity across the authority”. Their salaries, equipment, expenses and other costs totalled just under £94,000 in 2019-20.
Housing benefit accounted for the largest saving, totalling £86,415, last year. Council tax and other revenues came to £83,493 while corporate fraud investigation returned £6,044. The council also supplied information to the government-run National Fraud Initiative, which generated savings worth £50,487.
“Other council services undertake investigations into fraud, for example, Public Protection,” the authors add.
“These tasks for an ancillary part of an officer’s job role. It is difficult to attribute a cost to this as costs are consumed in overall budgets for each service.”
The report, co-written by principal auditor Tracey Drummond, senior investigations officer Andrew Hollis, public protection manager Anita Hunt and benefit assessment group manager Rebecca Owen-Jones, is due to go before a remote meeting of the seven-member Audit Committee on Tuesday, July 14.
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