10 Nov 2013

Benefit overpayments rise in Dundee

The level of benefit fraud and overpayment identified in Dundee has soared by more than £200,000 in a year.

Figures show benefit overpayments found by the city council — including overpayments from the Department for Work and Pensions — totalled £460,632 between April and September. For the same period last year, that figure was £258,145.

The figures were revealed in a report by Marjory Stewart, the council’s director of corporate services.

She says the targeting of more serious fraud cases by the council and DWP has led to the increase.

The report states:
The level of benefit overpayments identified as a result of counter-fraud activity has increased in comparison to the previous year. This was mainly due to the strategy by the council and the DWP in targeting the more serious levels of fraud perpetrated against the welfare scheme. The level of sanctions and success rates on case closures decreased. Again, this is mainly due to the focus shifting to investigating the more serious fraud offenders. Another factor in this decrease is the local joint counter-fraud initiative with the DWP. Results from this pilot should be realised towards the end of the current financial year.
Housing benefit and council tax benefit claimed in error by residents saw overpayments double from £102,000 last year, to £204,000 to September this year, though the level claimed through fraud in the first six months this year (£68,037) was lower than last year (£79,748).

DWP fraud overpayments totalled £187,896 this year, compared with £75,630 for the first six months last year.

The recovery rate of fraud overpayments also increased this year, from 73.74% to 74.03%, but the number of prosecutions for housing benefit overpayments being referred to the procurator fiscal dropped considerably. Just 11 were referred during the first half of 2013/14, compared to 26 over the same time last year.

A total of 17 sanctions have been taken against claimants this year so far, compared with 42 last year.

And, while the number of investigations was up from 120 last year to 167, the success rate on case closures was 14.41%, whereas more than 23% of cases were closed between April and September last year.

The city council employs a range of measures designed to detect and recover money fraudulently claimed by residents.

A series of tactics can be employed by the council in order to intercept benefit payments. These include tracking down people’s new addresses through a ‘do not redirect’ mail service, and data matching.

The council takes advantage of the TNT’s do not redirect service to combat fraud where a person claims benefit from an address that they do not reside at. Where an official mail redirection has been put in place with TNT, this service allows for benefit mail issued by the council to the original address to be intercepted and returned with the redirection information so that investigations can be implemented.

The council also works in partnership with TNT and where any unofficial redirection of post is uncovered this matter will be referred onto their own investigators. Data matching involves bringing together data from different sources and comparing it to identify any discrepancies and identify cases that merit investigation.

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