Anti-fraud team saves Northumberland taxpayers £2.5million

The county council’s anti-fraud team saved Northumberland taxpayers almost £2.5million last year.

By Ben O'Connell
Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 6:00 am
Northumberland  County Council
County Hall at Morpeth
Northumberland County Council County Hall at Morpeth

Its work for social-housing providers Karbon Homes and Bernicia on Right to Buy applications also saved those organisations £536,100 and £349,300 respectively.

The authority’s corporate fraud annual report for 2019-20 was presented to the Wednesday, September 30, meeting of the audit committee.

It reveals a total of 1,758 fraud referrals over the 12 months, with more than half (978) relating to single-person discount for council tax, while other council tax issues was the second largest category with 375 referrals.

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Council tax support fraudulent overpayments identified amounted to just £22,000, which ‘is lower than previous years as the focus has been placed on single person discounts cases’.

An exercise launched in May 2019 resulted in 882 cases where evidence was obtained to suggest an undeclared adult was living in a property and savings to the council of just under £176,000 from the closure of 426 of these cases.

During the year, although the council does not have any remit to investigate housing benefit fraud, often it is the case that overpayments are found through council tax support cases, with more than £68,000-worth identified last year.

Elsewhere, scrutiny resulted in 32 Right to Buy applications being withdrawn by the tenants, resulting in a total saving of £1.17million that would have been allowed as a discount to the property purchase price.

Plus, the properties remain as part of the council’s housing stock and continue to generate rental income.

A further 11 Homes for Northumberland properties have been recovered due to the tenants being non-resident and under national guidelines, their recovery is worth a minimum of £1.02million to the council.

Finally, work with the authority’s insurance and education teams has resulted in savings of £35,000 and £3,850 respectively.

The team also deals with internal fraud by council staff, with 11 referrals made in 2019-20.

However, seven of these related to one person and simply repeated a much earlier allegation which was resolved with no action needed.

One case remains open, involving allegations of theft, abuse of position and false representation, which is being considered for legal action.

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