Councillors informed about benefit fraud in Greenwich

Last night was a meeting of the Audit and Risk Management panel which looked at a range of accounts, annual governance letter and internal audit reports, which while important are generally quite opaque. 

The more interesting part of the meeting for me was the report on the anti fraud team, which is something Greenwich does quite well. The bare figures are interesting in that there were 717 referrals for Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit Fraud in 2009/10 the majority of which (402) were related to privately rented accommodation. There referrals led to 112 sanctions, with 36 successful prosecutions, 64 fines and 12 cautions. Housing Benefit is clearly the bigger problem with nearly half a million pounds being overpaid as a result of fraud. Worryingly when you add up all the overpayments linked to Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance the total comes to £1.2m. 

Moving on from fraud perpetrated on the Council to that within the Council, it was interesting that there had been 124 investigations into the behaviour of Greenwich Council employees. These led to 9 arrests by the police, 15 dismissals, 3 resignations and 4 people are currently suspended from duty.

In both sets of figures there are obviously huge worries, but I have great confidence that the anti-fraud team are doing an excellent job, not least as Bromley Council has employed them to do there anti-fraud work because of the quality of their work.      

From the comments of the officers at the meeting, it appeared that systematic fraud was increasing but they had struggled with a Council reorganisation which had meant they had also become responsible for the internal audit function. 

A last thought – one comment by officers was that Facebook was becoming an increasingly easy way of catching people as they simply made public the fraud they were committing - I knew technology was dangerous!

Author: Cllr Spencer Drury, Eltham North Ward