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Councils detect £135m of fraud

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English councils detected £135m worth of fraud cases last year but must ramp up their efforts in certain high spend areas, a report said.

The Audit Commission said councils detected around £99m worth of benefit fraud, over £15m worth of council tax fraud, and £21m worth of other types of fraud including false insurance claims, and abuse of the disabled parking ‘blue badge’ scheme last year.

But the watchdog said more needed to be done to detect fraud in some high expenditure areas, notable procurement, which is worth £80bn a year, and personal budgets for adult social care, which is a big growth area for councils.

Audit Commission chairman, Michael O’Higgins, right, said: “Councils have already performed well in fighting fraud, but need to be more and more vigilant. New processes and systems often open up new opportunities for fraudsters. Service providers need to stay one step ahead.

“For example, the number of people with personal social care budgets is increasing rapidly and councils must ensure that these vulnerable people are adequately protected. Councils must also watch out for procurement fraud in purchasing, sub-contracting, and outsourcing of services.”

Local Government Association, vice chairman, David Sparks (Lab), said: “At a time when councils will be struggling to find money to balance their budgets next year, local authorities will come down hard on those trying to steal money intended for the sick and the elderly.

“The message from councils to fraudsters is clear – try to con the system and you will end up in court.”

Figures in the report show:

  • Housing tenancy fraud is now one of the most significant frauds affecting the country’s economy - temporary accommodation for homeless families costs councils nearly £1bn a year, an average of £18,000 for each family.
  • Some 48,000 fraudulent council tax discounts claims were halted in 2009/10, clawing back £15m to the public purse.
  • Councils are increasingly alert to false claims for single person discount, usually given when one adult occupies a property. This fraud alone robs the public purse of £90m a year.

Read the full report, Protecting The Public Purse 2010, here

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