Benefits cheats have stolen more than £650,000 from the dwindling coffers of Wolverhampton City Council over the last year, according to a new report. (h/t Dave)
In the 12 months to the end of April, the authority initiated 187 investigations into fraud relating to benefits paid for housing tax, council tax and employment allowances - amounting to a loss of £651,300.
A total of 32 of the cases were prosecuted, recouping £222,000, while 28 claimants received a penalty and cautions were handed out in four cases.
But 123 of the cases failed to meet the authority's requirement for a sanction, resulting in a loss of £399,000.
The figures were compiled in a report by the Counter Fraud Unit, which investigates deception as part of the council's Audit Services.
The report states: "The council uses intelligence to identify dishonest benefit claimants and to actively pursue the recovery of fraudulently claimed payments and where appropriate penalise the perpetrator."
Finance chief Andrew Johnson said: "The cost of fraud to local government is estimated at a staggering £2.1bn a year - money which would better be used for providing local services. Wolverhampton City Council operates a zero tolerance policy on fraud and corruption; we won't hesitate to take action if we suspect fraud has been committed against the council – and, as a result, taxpayers – and we will make every effort to recover all monies stolen. This is demonstrated by the fact that, in 2014-15, we carried out 187 investigations into cases where claimants either provided inaccurate information in order to fraudulently claim benefits, or failed to inform the council that their circumstances, and therefore their entitlement to benefits, had changed. Wherever possible, we than take whatever steps are available to us to recover any overpayments."
A counter fraud App is currently being developed to make it easier for members of the public to report fraud. It is set to go live later this year.
As part of a nationwide shake-up the council's housing benefit fraud team will transfer over to the DWP’s Single Fraud Investigation Service next month.
Among those convicted in 2014/15 was 44-year-old Peter Harris, from Wednesfield, who swindled more than £17,000 by failing to tell authorities he had moved in with his partner.
One of the council's own benefits assessors, 56-year-old Anthony McHale, of Broad Lane North in Willenhall, defrauded £32,000 from Wolverhampton City Council. He set up and managed six false housing benefit payment accounts for fictitious people with fake national insurance numbers.