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Showing posts with label databases communicating. Show all posts
Showing posts with label databases communicating. Show all posts

28 Oct 2019

How Birmingham is tackling social housing frauds

This explores behind the recent revelation that sixty-four Birmingham homes had been recovered in a crackdown on housing fraud.

Amidst a housing crisis in the city with 13,000 people on the waiting list including around 3,000 families in temporary accommodation, every single home has become an extremely precious commodity. So it is scandalous that scores of perfectly good council houses are being abused every year - some just abandoned, while others are utilised for criminal enterprises such as cannabis farms.

But since 2010 the city council has ploughed significant investment into tackling the issue, with investigators using everything from light bulbs to library cards to detect fraud.

"It's always been there," said Neil Farquharson group auditor at the council, "But we have become more and more sophisticated and put more resources into tackling the problem.

"We realised how valuable a council property is, the amount of people we have got in temporary accommodation is growing and growing, therefore the more effort we can put into recovering properties and stopping people getting tenancies fraudulently, the better. Is it getting worse? It's difficult to say, but the housing crisis in the city is only going to exacerbate the problem."

In the past, illegal sub-letting grabbed the headlines being a major problem in London where property prices are notoriously high. It also prompted the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act in 2013. But that issue is 'rare' in the second-city where 'non-residency' is the most common type of housing fraud. This can often occur when people meet new partners and spend time living with them instead, or maybe move to a different part of the city or country for work.

Typically, tenants will also be in receipt of housing benefit which means they can stay away knowing their rent is covered. Is it naivety or an intentional abuse of the system?

"It's a mixture of both," said Mr Farquharson, "A lot of the cases we get are because a person's personal life has changed. There is a degree of naivety but also some people fully know what is expected of them and they will go ahead anyway."

Right to Buy, the government scheme which gives council tenants of three years or more significant discounts off the purchase price of a home, has also created an 'incentive' to obtain a council property. It has driven fraudulent housing applications whereby people may lie about the make-up of their household, falsely claiming there are six people living in a one-bedroom flat when there are only two, for instance.

Then there are the fraudulent housing applications themselves, when people will purport to have less than the £16,000 capital threshold which would render them ineligible. At the more extreme end of the scale, homes have been completely abused and used to grow drugs on an industrial scale.

"You will get cannabis farms that's one of the problems, that has been the case in Birmingham," Mr Farquharson lamented.

So how does the council go about tackling the problem? Partly, there is a reliance on tenant's neighbours reporting suspected misuse of a property. But over the years the authority has also developed a 'pioneering' anti-fraud data warehouse. It is essentially a mega-system which captures all of the data across the council to 'get a picture of a person' including council tax records, benefits records, licensing records and even library card forms.

"If we look at a housing application and somebody says they are living at an address in a particular part of the city we can say 'well actually according to your library card you don't live at that address, and according to your benefit records there's another inconsistency' so straight away it identifies anomalies," Mr Faquharson said.

It has become an incredibly efficient tool allowing for 'real-time matching' of information within 24 hours of a new housing application. The task then is for investigators to build up enough evidence to reclaim a property, which can take anywhere between three to 18 months.

Mr Farquharson said: "We speak to neighbours and say we haven't seen that person in the property for a long time. We have also got the power to request utility providers to tell us how much gas and electricity a person has used in a given period.

"We use industry averages as well, and can say 'your usage suggests you have had one light bulb on for the last two years, don't you put the heating on, the cooker on, the television on? So we build a case of evidence."

In some cases, the information is sufficient to cancel housing benefits and the prospect of a backdated bill is enough to cause tenants to surrender the keys without fuss. In other instances they may fight it.

Figures suggest that the fraud team is now getting ahead of the problem. While the number of homes being recovered is declining from 87 in 2017/18 to 64 last year, and just shy of 30 so far this year, the amount of cancelled applications is going in the other direction. There were 152 applications stopped before letting in 2017/18, increasing to 212 last year, while there have been more than 400 already in the current financial year.

High-profile results over the years, have also helped highlight the issue of housing fraud. Among them was Sonia Hunter who was awarded a 70 per cent discount on her Right to Buy purchase of 45 Attenborough Close, but failed to declare that she owned a home in Court Lane, Erdington. In 2014 she was given a 10-week prison sentence suspended for 18 months, and ordered to pay the council £23,545 through the the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).

In the same year concerns were raised about senior council housing officer Zara Danyaal, from Acocks Green. An investigation established she used fake identities and personal information to submit and process six fraudulent housing applications between 2011 and 2013.

Danyaal was jailed in June 2016 for three years - 30 months for one count of housing fraud and six months for two offences relating to job references. She was also ordered to repay £20,000. Her other Samara Malik, who was not employed by the council but awarded one of tenancies, was sentenced to ten months for one count of housing fraud after supplying false information.

Then there was Mbarak Awdah Abdallah who was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment - having already been jailed for another offence - and ordered to repay £18,990.30. He had gained the tenancy of 4 Milston Close in Druids Heath, after claiming a 'landlord' had ordered him to vacate his home at 191 Chinn Brook Road, Yardley Wood - a property, which it transpired Abdallah owned himself and had been renting out.

"If you are committing housing fraud we are getting more and more sophisticated with our detection methods, we will find you and there is legislation there that means we can prosecute you," said Mr Farquharson.

"To the members of the public, social housing fraud isn't something we should tolerate, we shouldn't be denying people who genuinely deserve social housing. If you believe somebody isn't using their property as their sole main residence, you should report it."

Source

26 Jan 2018

Here's one way benefit fraud is understated - and why

A benefit fraud reader comments on this post:
This is going on every single day. People from the EU come into my place of work and make up all sorts of stories about where they are from etc. They also move over to Britain, move into a really bad place to live and then come into the council and demand Social Housing. When they get it, they then move in loads of other people and then say they are living in over crowded conditions and they get a larger house. After 5 years they are allowed to buy their Social House, making an instant profit and depleting the Social Housing stock.They are even allowed to buy their Social House even if they have been in rent arrears while tenants. They sign up to all the benefits and usually get them. Some of them are claiming more benefits then I get paid and they are for doing nothing for this money, because as I often hear from them "they are entitled to it".

The whole system is a complete joke. Its not just people from the EU that do this, it is people born in Britain that think they are "entitled" to live off the working.

The Data Protection Act allows this to happen, as we are not allowed to share information with other departments within the council or other councils. People often move areas and do the same thing again. If you are not going to commit a crime you would not mind your data been shared with other government services. Wake up government, any government. Put the GREAT back in Britain. If Departments could share information, people would not get away with so much fraud, thus reducing the costs of it.
Political success in benefit fraud enforcement is to keep the detected fraud numbers falling slowly. This demonstrates "improvement" and "success".

Note it has nothing to do with the actual level of benefit fraud. If the government put more resources into detecting benefit fraud (for instance identifying patterns like this one), the total of fraud identified would go up.

This would free up money for the government to spend on other things. But admitting to a higher level of benefit fraud would attract political criticism - criticism any government would rather do without.

Anything for a quiet life. Even though better enforcement would benefit taxpayers.

31 May 2017

Could ID cards address rising benefit fraud?

According to the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), benefit fraud is costing the UK £2.0bn a year. From scammers posing as deceased relatives through to ex-pats failing to mention they live in Alicante, it’s seemingly only getting worse. (h/t Dave)

The welfare system hasn’t exactly made life easy for itself. An entangled network of needs-based benefits, coupled with antiquated methods of ID verification, has made it easy to exploit. But due to a wave of new technologies, this tired old framework is finally set to change. Quite how far will depend on the decisions we make collectively.

Reducing fraud at the point of application

Until recently, it’s been notoriously difficult to check someone’s circumstances across different public sector departments. This lack of cooperation has led to millions being lost through fraudulent claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance - even by those working within the public sector itself. It’s also enabled thousands of people to receive a pension in the name of a deceased relative.

Part of the problem is being addressed with the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), which is a clear acknowledgement that the benefits system has become a labyrinth of complexity. Having one single application process for a range of awards removes the risks associated with conflicting information. The DWP is already saving money - in 2013/14, it recovered an extra £100 million of fraud and error-related debt compared to 2009/10.

As a further safeguard, the verification process for a UC claim now draws upon up-to-date earnings from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The technology, understandably known as “Real Time Information” lets the DWP check an applicant’s current income. HMRC now insists that employers and pension providers provide these figures immediately after making a payment, rather than annually.

But the most notable new technology is the National Fraud Initiative’s (NFI) AppCheck tool. For the first time, any department can verify an individual’s circumstances with over 1,300 other organisations including the DWP, the Home Office, local councils, police authorities and private companies. In total, around a third of a billion records are trawled through. The chances of successfully claiming a benefit fraudulently are diminishing for each new data source that’s added.

Beyond this, the next step brings with it a whole new level of controversy. Last year, the DWP began a trial using blockchain, which involves claimants downloading a mobile app to receive and spend money. Every transaction is recorded on a ledger to help them improve their budgeting. Potentially, it could allow the DWP to specify where recipients spend their cash - although this has been denied by Conservative peer Lord Henley. Ministers are currently considering extending the trial, which was originally carried out by Disc (formally GovCoin).

Monitoring changes in circumstances

The National Benefit Fraud Hotline receives over 1’000 calls a day, but according to a freedom of information request to the DWP, 85% of reported cases turn out to be false. So it’s quite plausible that the cost of investigations could easily negate the overall savings.

But the Government’s reliance on anonymous tip-offs is set to be replaced by improved data matching. In addition to its Appcheck tool, the NFI also carries out frequent data comparisons across a myriad of sources. In 2016, it identified 172,907 fraudulent claims, resulting in savings of £198.2 million. Almost half of this was derived from simply comparing pension payments with the Disclosure of Death Registration Information from the General Registrar’s Office. Even though this doesn’t seem to be particularly groundbreaking, it’s actually highly significant given the public sector’s usual reticence for collaboration.

It’s only a matter of time until machine-learning algorithms can identify fraudulent activity with even more certainty. Exposing artificial intelligence to the NFI’s records will enable it to accurately spot discrepancies and even predict where fraud could occur.

Identification checks

The current ‘approved forms of ID’ have been around for decades. Even a new claim for UC only requires a driving license, passport or EEA national identity card. But reams of forged documents are in circulation and every year around 1,000 fake passports are seized at border points. A quick search for “how to create a fake driving license” lists almost two million results.

Manchester-based VST Enterprises has created a technology, known as the VCode system, which makes it decidedly harder to claim benefits in a false name. It’s currently being trialled in India and the US where users can authenticate themselves using a variety of secure personal data. Louis-James Davis, CEO, explains:

“Currently in India and the USA, benefit claimants are provided with a magnetic striped card loaded with funds that they can redeem at grocery outlets etc. That system has caused plenty of difficulties that VCode addresses. It’s been found to be more secure and effective in ensuring benefits go to genuine claimants than the magnetic strip system it’s replacing.”

In the UK, the technology could potentially be integrated into ID cards “as a multifunctional system, securely containing biometric and demographic data”, such as “ID photographs, fingerprints and iris scans.”

Moral dilemmas

As a society we need to think carefully about our next step. Do ID cards encroach on our civil liberties? Should we dictate where benefits are spent? How far are we prepared to move towards one centralised record which is accessible by private companies?

Technology is evolving to such an extent that benefit fraud could be eradicated within the next ten years. Perhaps the only potential stumbling block is our inbuilt resistance to change.

Source