This report provides an account of fraud-related activity carried out during the past year to minimise the risk of fraud, bribery and corruption occurring within and against the Council.
David Hughes, Director of Audit, Fraud, Risk and Insurance, presented the report which provided an account of fraud-related activity undertaken by the Corporate Anti-Fraud Service (CAFS) from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021 to minimise the risk of fraud, bribery and corruption occurring within and against the Council.
Officers noted that performance in 2021 was broadly similar to previous years, despite the pandemic. A significant amount of work had also been undertaken with the business grants team and assisting local businesses.
The Chair asked how much time has been spent on business grants, and if it had taken resources away from other areas of investigation. David Hughes said the pandemic had made carrying out tenancy fraud visits difficult, so the team switched that resource to business grants.
The Chair asked what the grant figure in the report of £460k was as a percentage of the full amount paid out. Emily Hill said she would provide an answer by email.
ACTION: Emily Hill
Councillor Alexandra Sanderson commented that it would be useful to have some comparisons with other similar boroughs, a London-wide average, and a national figure to provide context.
Councillor Sanderson also asked if referrals to CAFS mostly came from neighbours or other sources – and if the Council could encourage more people to come forward. David Hughes said the Council encouraged residents to come forward. Officers also received useful intelligence from Councillors.
Regarding comparisons, benchmarking data was available. Local authorities didn’t all use the same notional values for fraud, but it would provide some useful comparisons.
Councillor Matt Thorley asked what the lag in convictions was caused by. David Hughes said the team were keen to restart tenancy visits but there were significant delays of around 12 to 18 months for court cases.
Councillor Alex Karmel asked why there was such a large reduction in tenancy fraud totals (75%). David Hughes said the reduction was in visits from officers due to the pandemic.
Councillor Karmel asked what the total value of business rates grants were. He also asked if officers could provide the total fraud recovered over the period, assuming the Council was to win all its pending court cases. Emily Hill said there were several different schemes, but the total was £87m for the 2020/21 financial year. There were continuing grants for 2021/22 of £20.7m that had to be paid out by the end of July. Emily Hill said she could provide a written summary after the meeting with headline numbers.
ACTION: Emily Hill
The Chair asked how proactive the Council was then carrying out major works on housing estates. Did officers take the opportunity to check tenancies if there were issues getting in touch with tenants. David Hughes said similar checks had been made in the past with gas safety checks. He said he would discuss the issue with housing colleagues.
ACTION: David Hughes
In response to a question from Councillor Karmel, David Hughes confirmed officers did carry out unannounced tenancy inspection visits.
The report was noted.