Almost £20,000 recovered from fraudulent Covid-19 isolation payments

Fraudlent Covid-19 self isolation payments were among the hundreds of cases referred to officers, saving the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds.

By James Robinson
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 4:06 pm
Fraudlent Covid-19 self isolation payments were among the hundreds of cases referred to Northumberland County Council’s Corporate Fraud Team last year.
Fraudlent Covid-19 self isolation payments were among the hundreds of cases referred to Northumberland County Council’s Corporate Fraud Team last year.

A total of 436 fraud referrals were received by Northumberland County Council’s Corporate Fraud Team between April 1, 2021, and September 30 the same year.

The worst affected sectors were tenancy, with 164 referrals, council tax with 129, and Covid self-isolation payments with 56.

Under the test and trace support payment scheme, people on low incomes could claim £500 if they tested positive for Covid-19.

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A report presented to the council’s audit committee revealed that 39 of the self-isolation payments were found to recoverable, amounting to £19,500.

A further £7,866.53 was identified in fraudulent overpayments through council tax support – this figure was noticeably lower than in previous years. An additional £14,442.52 was recovered from single person discount cases.

Despite more than 400 referrals to the team, just one person was sanctioned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The report read: “Decisions were made that due to the restrictions enforced by the pandemic, not having a Covid secure interview room and also considering the courts and the pressure they were under with cases waiting to be heard that cases would not be considered for sanctions or prosecution during this period.”

The single sanction imposed was a formal caution.

Chairman Stephen Watson said: “It is quite clear that this is a service which is growing and which is a credit to the people that have helped to grow it over the past years.

“It is a valuable resource to the council. The work that you carried out is very valuable and very much appreciated by the rest of the team.”

The team also investigates Right to Buy applications from social housing tenants, resulting in the withdrawal of 19 applications giving a saving of £865,070 that would have been allowed as a discount to the property purchase price.

The 19 properties also remain part of the housing stock and continue to generate rental income.

An additional £372,000 was recovered in terms of properties recovered, three of which were abandoned and one were a false application for succession was successfully investigated, resulting in the property being re-let.

Coun Alex Wallace praised this aspect of the work – he said: “I will congratulate the officer and the team. One of the things we’re very keen to do in Northumberland is to be able to house our residents.

“Those 19 Right to Buy applications means we were able to continue to provide council homes for tenants, and that should be applauded.”