Council tax fraud and blue-badge misuse are among the serious issues recognised by Bedford Borough Council as a drain on public funds.
A report to Bedford Borough Council’s Audit Committee (Monday 29 November) said that fraudulent abuse of the council tax, social housing, business rates and disabled parking concessions systems are widely recognised to be a serious issue.
Bedford Borough Council’s Anti Fraud Strategy sets out its strategy to reduce the risk and impact of fraudulent claims – and is periodically reviewed to make sure it remains effective and punishes those guilty of offences.
The committee was asked to consider a revised Anti-Fraud Strategy taking into account changes to officer titles and responsibilities resulting from the leadership structure approved by January’s General Purposes Committee.
Andy Watkins, assistant chief executive – enabling services, said: “Every two years, or thereabouts, we bring the Anti Fraud Strategy to the Audit Committee to refresh it, and to re-emphasize its importance because the council has a zero-tolerance approach.”
The report highlighted targeted fraud awareness, training and investigation work was undertaken by a dedicated Fraud Investigation team.
Cllrr Mohammed Masud (Labour, Queens Park Ward) the audit committee chair, wondered if the size of the Fraud Team was providing value for money.
Mr Watkins replied: “I can’t tell you offhand, but what I can tell you is that at the next committee in March we’ll be doing the annual fraud review.
“We will bring an annual report to the audit committee that sets out the activity of the Fraud Team, but I can say that the Fraud Team more than covers its cost in terms of the fraud activities that it looks at.
“A single person’s discount tenancy fraud which does have an impact through temporary accommodation, blue badge, those kind of areas so the Fraud Team does pay its way, but we will bring a report back in March that sets that out for you chair.”
Councillor Masud asked: “So, these four people will save the council money?”
Mr Watkins said: “Yes they do, if they didn’t, it’d be difficult to justify their position because the whole point of the team is to identify fraud.
“I mean there are cultural kind of aspects to that in terms of getting a compliant culture, but we will be able to demonstrate when you look at the impacts the Fraud Team have had, they generate income greater than their cost.
“Some of that income it reflects itself in a higher council tax year because single person discount, if that’s being claimed inappropriately, that increases the tax base.
“But we take all the aspects that the Fraud Team looks at and quantify it, and then we will report that back in March and we do that every year,” he said.
Surinder Momi, chief officer for internal audit, added: “In my report, I do provide some financial savings as a result of the national fraud initiative to do with single person discounts.
“I believe to date we’ve saved over three hundred thousand pounds.”
The committee voted to approve the revised Anti-Fraud Strategy.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter