28 Jun 2013

Bristol reports on local benefit fraud

Bristol's benefit-fraud team uncovered nearly £2 million of incorrect claims last year, a city-council report has revealed. Most of the claims referred to housing or council-tax benefit.

During the last financial year, which ended on April 1, the fraud team investigated 729 cases – and 166 people were prosecuted or sanctioned (a caution from the council or an administrative penalty which is the same as a fine).

Six benefit fraudsters were sent to prison, 19 received suspended sentences, 14 were given curfew orders which restricted their movements and 28 were ordered to carry out work in the community.

The team said they discovered scams through a range of sources including the benefit service, data-matching initiatives, tip-offs to a hotline, and a pro-active campaign of checking claims.

In the report, the fraud team says:
Analysis shows that the largest number of referrals comes from the benefit service and most concern allegations of undeclared living together. However, the most successful cases come from joint working with the fraud teams from the Department for Work and Pensions around allegations of individuals working and claiming benefits.
The team argues that it is a very cost-effective department because it saves the council so much money each year. But there is a risk that staffing levels might be reduced because of public-spending cuts.

The fraud team says:
With further significant reductions expected to the Department for Work and Pensions' administration grant in 2014-15, there is a risk that current levels of staffing will not be maintained due to increasing pressure on budgets. A resulting risk is that without sufficient resources being available to detect and investigate suspected fraud, the council will not have assurance that it is fully meeting its statutory responsibility to protect the public purse and prevent and detect fraud and error. Additionally, fraud may increase as the deterrent of prosecution is reduced.
The team warned that after Universal Credit is introduced, fraud staff are likely to be transferred from the council to a new organisation which is being set up to investigate social-security fraud.
This may result in the loss of valuable skills from the council in terms of specially-trained, accredited, counter-fraud officers equipped to undertake criminal investigations.

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