Wealden’s counter fraud team saves council more than £400,000

Wealden District Council’s counter fraud team saved the authority more than £400,000 in the last financial year, councillors have heard this week.
Wealden District Council offices, Hailsham SUS-170401-214731008Wealden District Council offices, Hailsham SUS-170401-214731008
Wealden District Council offices, Hailsham SUS-170401-214731008

The figure was revealed as part of an annual report on the team’s work, which was considered at a meeting of the council’s audit, finance and governance committee on Wednesday (July 31).

According to the report, the team investigated 69 cases in 2018/19, which when combined resulted in the council either recovering or saving £412,332.  

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Introducing the report, David Palmer, the council’s head of business services, said the team had been formed in 2014 as a result of a rise in cases in recent years, which he attributed to the effects of austerity.

He said: “Austerity has really caused more risks to be taken by the public. We didn’t used to have a large amount of fraud against the council, certainly not detected fraud against the council.

“The only thing we really had to rely on in the past, was a thing called the National Fraud Initiative. That still exists but is a bit behind than what we do here and still doesn’t yield great results by comparison.

“The National Fraud Initiative would have found about £30,000 in the last year, but you will see from your report, that we detected and effectively stopped fraud of £412,000.

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“The team was formed in 2014 and since then has stopped fraud of approaching £2m.”

Since 2014, Mr Palmer said, the counter fraud team has shifted its approach, concentrating on prevention. 

This prevention work currently focuses on Right to Buy applications, which are checked to ensure claims are genuine and the applicant is in a position to proceed with the purchase.

According to the report, the checks are made to ensure the council is not being used for money laundering purposes or that the applicant is purchasing on behalf of a third party.

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Two such applications were stopped during the year saving a total discount of £145,900, the report says.

The report also notes an increase in the number of social housing fraud referrals being investigated, rising by 15 per cent on the previous year to a total of 20 cases. When combined, these investigations saw the council  save £233,260, the report said.

Of the 69 cases investigated by the team, 16 related to investigations connected to Wealden’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS). During the year, investigations connected to council tax (including both CTRS and single person discount schemes) saw £77,261 of fraud proven.

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