The Senior Fraud Investigator introduced the report. The purpose of it was to provide members with a summary of the actions that have been undertaken in respect of counter fraud and also provides an update on the National Fraud Initiative exercise.
The key points were as follows:
In the discussion that followed, a member questioned the Council's attitude towards fraud and error. He suggested that it was not taken seriously, was passive, and there was not enough focus on it. He suggested a small investment in this area (including working with Data Cymru on data mining) could have a net significant benefit financially for the Council.
The Chief Officer – Finance, Performance and Change noted that in some other areas they have looked at whether or not there's a business plan to actually invest in this area along the lines of an invest to save proposal. She suggested this was something that could be taken away and looked at.
The Head of the Regional Internal Audit Service (RIAS) reminded members about the National Fraud Initiative, a UK wide exercise that covers over 1200 public sector organisations (other Local Authorities, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), NHS & Trusts, Police and Housing Associations etc.) in terms of a data matching exercise that helps prevent and detect fraud. Any matches that arose for Bridgend would be looked into and taken very seriously.
A member drew attention to three issues:
In response to comments about the action plan, the Chief Officer – Finance, Performance and Change suggested it could be looked at again, especially around targets. She also suggested that officers probably need to put more information in the report so that members have a better idea of the work that is going on in the service.
Another member drew attention to contract management and the potential for recovering funds. In response, the Chief Officer – Finance, Performance and Change suggested that whilst this was not necessarily fraud, people need to know that the Council would take the necessary action, like claiming back money, if somebody has gone outside a contract or not performed as required.
Finally, a member suggested, as someone who dealt with the DWP on a daily basis, it would be helpful to invite someone from the department to assist with the Committee’s understanding of their investigations into suspected fraud.
The Chairperson suggested this was worth pursuing as the information about what happens once referrals are made from Bridgend into the DWP system could be helpful.
The Chief Officer – Finance, Performance and Change suggested she would approach the DWP to see if they would be willing to do an informal seminar though she reminded members they would not be able to talk about individual cases. She suggested they could certainly talk about what their process would be and how they would deal with issues.
The Chairperson suggested, following the comments by a member about the Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Detection of Fraud and Enforcement) (Wales) Regulations 2013, that someone should contact the WLGA and Welsh Government expressing our concern at the low threshold of fines, and suggest they should be reviewed.
The Chief Officer – Finance, Performance and Change suggested she could take that forward and contact the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) to see whether any discussions are going on with regards to that issue. She suggested that when she had a response, members could determine the best way forward.
The Committee noted the Annual Fraud Report 2022- 23, the measures in place, the work being undertaken to prevent and detect fraud and error and the update on the National Fraud Initiative (NFI).
The Committee requested that the DWP be contacted to invite a representative to attend a meeting to outline their approach to dealing with matters of suspected fraud.