Benefit fraud mars overall fall

1 Feb 01
Although local authority fraud is down for the first time in ten years, councils still face an uphill battle to control housing benefit fraud, the Audit Commission warned this week.

02 February 2001

Despite concerted attempts to encourage prevention, one in six councils still does not have an anti-fraud strategy in place while one in eight has no whistle-blowing policy. In spite of the fall, the total still ran to £100m.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Protecting the public purse, Keith Douthwaite, associate director of audit support at the commission, said councils' preventative work was bearing fruit.

'Progress on fraud prevention was particularly marked in the London boroughs,' he said.
Councils have become more adept at tracking and identifying high-value, long-running fraud, according to Douthwaite.

Over the 1999/2000 period, housing benefit fraud was the biggest risk for local authorities, some 92% of all detected fraud.

While the number of detected cases had fallen by a third over the last year, the commission found the average value of the fraud had increased from £464 to £644.

However, Douthwaite warned that councils have a difficult balancing act in dealing with fraudulent housing benefit claims.

Under pressure to deal with benefit claims quickly and within 14 days of receiving them, many councils are forced to limit the checking and verification they carry out, which makes the tracking of persistent fraud much more difficult, the report said.

The commission also identified what it described 'as a significant new area of fraud', with increasing numbers of false claims by landlords for housing non-existent asylum seekers.

Two recent frauds totalling £240,000 and £475,000 prompted the commission to warn all councils of the danger.

Commission controller Sir Andrew Foster said the new type of fraud was 'classic', especially when the system of payments is changed quickly, making checks more difficult.


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