The Committee noted the Annual Corporate Fraud Report 2021- 22, the measures in place, the work being undertaken to prevent and detect fraud and error and the update on the National Fraud Initiative.
The Senior Fraud Investigator presented the Annual Corporate Fraud Report 2021-22 which summarised the actions undertaken in respect of counter fraud and provided an update on the National Fraud Initiative (NFI) exercise.
He reported on the progress made to improve the Council’s resilience to fraud, bribery and corruption, set out in the Fraud Strategy and Framework. A fraud risk register had been developed and the Fraud Prevention E-learning module had now been rolled out across the Council and is mandatory for all new and existing staff and Members to complete. A Fraud awareness training session was also provided to all existing Members in February 2022.
He also informed the Committee of the ongoing measures pursuant to the NFI, whereby data is extracted from the Council’s systems and reports and then matched against data submitted from other bodies such as other Local Authorities, Department for Work and Pensions, NHS & Trusts, Police and Housing Associations. He stated that 420 frauds or errors were identified equating to £30,680.42 of recoverable funds, mostly attributable to council tax reduction or housing benefit matches. The exercise resulted in the cancellation of 403 blue badges, where the holder was deceased, generating an estimated cabinet office saving of £231,725.00. The Annual Report also provided detail of the internal counter fraud work undertaken by Internal Audit and the Council’s Senior Fraud Investigator including internal investigations, council tax reduction investigations and blue badge investigations.
A member of the Committee asked for details of the number of staff in the fraud team. The Senior Fraud Investigator informed the Committee that the team included himself and an Investigator, who had been redeployed to another service area due to Covid but had since returned and was now picking up fraud investigation work.
A member of the Committee asked whether the grants awarded due to covid could give rise to fraud. The Senior Fraud Investigator stated that Covid-19 grants had been part of the data matching exercise, with no fraud identified. He stated that one grant had been incorrectly paid and had been recovered.
A member of the Committee enquired whether staff had been investigated due to fraudulent activity and if so, whether this had led to their suspension or dismissal. The Senior Fraud Investigator stated that no such activity had been drawn to his attention in the period covering this Annual Report. The Deputy Head of the Regional Audit Service stated that Internal Audit works closely with the Senior Fraud Investigator. The Internal Audit team had investigated allegations of fraud by staff and it would have to consider what information could be reported to the Committee.
A member of the Committee believed that a team of one was insufficient for an organisation of its size and asked whether an investment should be made in a larger team which through fraud investigation would derive more income for the Council. The Chief Officer Finance, Performance and Change informed the Committee that the Senior Fraud Investigator and Internal Audit work collaboratively. She stated that a great deal of work had been undertaken in relation to Covid grants awarded to businesses and that, as a result, no issues of fraud were found. She also stated that some authorities put greater resources into fraud and there was potential to work on a regional basis. She felt the balance in the Fraud Team to be reasonable. A member of the Committee stated that the cost of living crisis could give rise to greater fraud and he referred to case studies in other Councils where they had experienced a greater return than the cost of employing fraud officers, which he would share with the Chief Officer Finance, Performance and Change.
RESOLVED: That the Committee noted the Annual Corporate Fraud Report 2021- 22, the measures in place, the work being undertaken to prevent and detect fraud and error and the update on the National Fraud Initiative.