1 May 2013

Redditch Council reports on benefit fraud

Benefit cheats fear being named and shamed in the local press more than being taken to court. (h/t VNCounterfraud)

The claim was made as part of a review of the borough council's benefits fraud investigation service in the last year.

There was a total of 1,462 reports of suspected benefit fraud during 2012/13 - a 35 per cent increase over the same period last year. Over £136,415 in overpaid housing benefit was identified by officers and more than £51,088 in excess Council Tax Benefit.

More than 63 per cent of reports came from data matching, a process of checking tax credits, private pensions and HMRC records to identify housing and council tax benefit fraud.

The percentage of reports from the public dropped in the last year from over a quarter to just 15.5 per cent.

But in a report to the council's audit and governance committee Shona Knight, assistant benefit manager, said the actual number was higher than in 2011/12 and reports of benefit fraud from the public were still increasing as a result of publicity in the local press involving people who had been successfully prosecuted:
For many customers who are being interviewed under caution for benefit fraud offences they are more concerned their name will be in the paper than attending court and the consequences of a criminal conviction. Press releases therefore continue to be our most valuable tool in the prevention of fraud and encouraging the public to report their suspicions.
Last year ten people were prosecuted in total - five for failing to declare they were living with a partner, two for failing to say they were working, two for not declaring savings and one for tenancy related fraud.

Another 47 were cautioned, the vast majority for falsely claiming they were not working or lying about the number of hours worked.

Discrepancies were found in another 291 claims which were corrected but there was a lack of evidence or the amount overpaid was not sufficient to consider prosecution, however a warning was issued and a note made on the person's record in case of any future fraud.

Another 166 cases were dealt with as fraud or error was proven and a change to benefit entitlement or overpayment was established and there were 58 instances where fraud or error was uncovered but it did not affect the claim and no money was overpaid.

Other cases are either part of on-going investigations, refer to benefits not paid by the council and are passed on to the DWP or HMRC or are corrected before it reaches the investigations team.

A council spokeswoman said:
Recent changes to the benefits system reinforce the need to maintain the council’s approach to fraud. It has always been said fraudsters are taking money that should be used for local services and cuts to funding are making this even more relevant.

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