Suffolk: Councils’ anti-fraud and corruption review

Council steps up anti fraud detection

Council steps up anti fraud detection - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2008

ANTI-FRAUD and corruption measures are being reviewed by district and borough councils across Suffolk.

With tough economic conditions and radical changes taking place in local government that will lead to more services being delivered by third parties, some officers fear that without new safeguards it will become increasingly difficult to prevent and detect fraud.

St Edmundsbury Borough and Forest Heath District councils – part of the Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP) including Breckland and East Cambs – have confirmed they have already seen a 30% increase in fraud referrals and detection since 2010/11.

The ARP fraud service budget, which includes all housing and council tax benefit services, is set to be £3.09million for the new financial year.

Meanwhile, Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils in conjunction with Ipswich Borough Council have come up with a new corporate counter-fraud business plan.

The document is designed to reassure stakeholders, councillors, staff and community members that “robust processes” exist to deal with any corrupt or fraudulent activity in the council areas.

In a report to Babergh’s overview and scrutiny committee, internal audit corporate manager John Snell acknowledged that the councils’ anti-fraud and corruption policy needed updating.

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He said: “Harder times tend to lead to an increased motivation to defraud by some clients, suppliers and employees who are feeling the squeeze.

“Without new safeguards, preventing, detecting and investigating fraud will become more difficult.”

The counter-fraud team of six full-time and two part-time staff based in Ipswich undertakes detection, investigation and intelligence gathering activities after receiving referrals from internal staff, external agencies such as a national data-matching service, and a confidential fraud hotline.

Their budget for fraud investigation services for the coming year is £370,000, with Ipswich Borough contributing nearly 60%.

Between April and December last year, the Ipswich authority overpaid £180,726.20 in benefits, issued 13 cautions, 13 fines and made 16 prosecutions.

Meanwhile, Babergh uncovered £46,770.22 in benefit over-payments from 188 referrals, and issued seven cautions, six fines and seven prosecutions. Out of 149 referrals, Mid Suffolk District Council issued five cautions, 11 fines and made five prosecutions after uncovering £142,285.60 of benefit over-payments.

In the east of the county, Suffolk Coastal District Council has adopted a “zero tolerance” approach to fraud and corruption.

During the 2011/12 financial year, the council dealt with 179 fraud referrals, issued 12 cautions, 18 fines and made 14 prosecutions.

The value of over-payments identified was £177,594.38 but only £11,485.53 has been recouped in fines.