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14 Feb 2014

Tip-offs identify benefit frauds in North Lincolnshire

Calls to a whistleblower hotline and ongoing operations are helping detect hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of fraud in North Lincolnshire.

The hotline, set up by North Lincolnshire Council in 1998, is receiving a steady increase in the number of calls from members of the public. These tip-offs, along with joint operations with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), have helped prosecute 24 fraudsters since April.

The authority's investigation manager said the hotline was one of the tools the council was utilising in its battle against fraud:
We do get some very good results from the whistleblower hotline. There is often very little information they can give and it takes a lot of work to firm it up. People can report suspicions and we give them the opportunity to do that.
Since April, the hotline has received 446 calls, although 208 turned out to be spurious – calling the number by mistake for another council matter.

If that rate continues until March 31, it will lead to an increase on the 297 referrals in 2012-13, 295 in 2011-12, 187 in 2010-11 and 189 in 2009-10.

Of the fraud detected by the council, 90 per cent is housing benefit.

The number of fraud cases fell significantly in 2012/13 – from 949 to 295 – following the completion of a two-year joint exercise with the DWP.

Of the 295 cases, 268 cases (90 per cent) were for council tax and housing benefits, compared to 921 (97 per cent) of the 949 cases the previous year.

The investigation manager said the ongoing two-year operation with the DWP has already led to £300,000 worth of fraud being uncovered in North Lincolnshire:
Ultimately, it is a high-profile topic on the basis of the amount of media coverage. Between ourselves and the DWP, we identified well over £300,000 worth of fraud in that exercise. That started two years ago. Quite a number of cases out of that exercise had huge over-payments of tens of thousands. That was the first time we have done that locally.
The investigation manager said an exercise which started early last year has identified £70,000 worth of fraud.
We do a lot of data matching. We try and identify if somebody is claiming elsewhere or is working and not declaring their employment or has undeclared income and savings. An exercise that started in March last year, which we are currently working on, has found £70,000 of fraud. This exercise is part of the Audit Commission's National Fraud Initiative. This is a lengthy exercise and will be ongoing for many months. The reason we are doing all this data matching is to try and identify fraud and error much earlier to recover losses to the council.
Since April, 24 people have been prosecuted for fraud – up from the 19 who were prosecuted during the whole of 2012-13.

Councillor Neil Poole, cabinet member for policy and resources, said the local authority was making great efforts to stamp it out:
We work extremely hard trying to tackle benefit fraud, ensuring that those who are claiming falsely are found out and prosecuted. Many of the cases we have identified over the years may not have been found if it wasn't for our great joint working with the Department for Work and Pensions and other local councils. By working with these agencies, it means we can share data and carry out comparisons to see if any differences occur. It is only by working so closely together that we are able to get these good results and ensure that all the benefits being wrongly claimed are corrected, the appropriate action is taken and taxpayers' money is safeguarded.

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