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27 May 2015

Benefit fraud up in Waltham Forest

Some of this is trying to make a story out of nothing, but it's interesting to see how it is presented in the local press. It's not yet clear how the more centralised anti-fraud service is performing.

Stark warnings on the clamp down on benefit fraud have fallen on deaf ears in Waltham Forest as the amount of cash being paid out to people trying to fiddle the system is soaring.

A Freedom of Information Act request shows that despite the advertisements and the warnings, spending on investigating benefit fraud at local level has been slashed.

As a result, in the last three years in Waltham Forest alone £3,776,000 has been paid out to people later being found to have claimed the money fraudulently.

In addition to this – the FOI also shows that only ten per cent of this sum has been recovered.

Spending on investigation has halved in five years from £420,000 to £200,000 and the team of officers dedicated to finding fraudsters has been cut from 11 to five.

The current salary of the team of officers dealing with cases ranges from £27,000 to £34,500.

In 2010/11 a recorded amount of £482,000 was paid out to people who were committing benefit fraud and in the last year this figure has shot up to £1,073,000.

There was also a spike in 2012/13 when the number of people caught showed £1,015,00 was paid out to fraudsters.

The number of people convicted for benefit fraud in the borough has also dramatically declined.

In 2010/11 26 people were caught and brought to justice, whereas last year, that number was 6.

A council spokesman said the figures must be contextualised against a change in responsibility.

In February 2015 the council stopped investigating benefit fraud and responsibility was transferred over from the Council to the DWP, as was the funding.

Before the move, according to the council, funding was reduced by central government and fraud services at the town hall ‘changed practices’. The teams were tasked with working on “higher value, more serious fraud cases” the council has claimed.

Councillor Clare Coghill, Cabinet Member for Economic Growth and High Streets said:
The Government has taken on direct responsibility for tackling benefit fraud so it is no longer our area of responsibility. In addition, before our powers were taken on by Central Government, budgets were cut, also by Central Government, which of course has an impact on the numbers of people available to tackle the very real problem of benefit fraud.
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