The Deputy Director of Finance submits a report to the Audit and Risk Committee on the work carried out by the Corporate Investigations Team for the period 1st April 2020 to 31st March 2021.
The Committee is recommended to receive and comment on the report and make any recommendations it sees fit to the Executive and/or the Chief Operating Officer / s151 officer or Deputy Director of Finance.
The Deputy Director of Finance submitted a report for noting which provided information on the work carried out by the Corporate Investigations Team for the period 1st April 2020 to 31st March 2021.
Stuart Limb, Corporate Investigations Manager presented the report, and the following points were highlighted:
· The report explained there had been a huge change in emphasis on work undertaken by the Team for the previous financial year because of Covid-19 pandemic.
· A lot of work had shifted from reactive and investigatory to proactive. The Team had worked intensively with colleagues in Revenues and Customer Support and the wider Finance Division, to put procedures, declarations and a robust application process in place for the business support grants. A lot of work undertaken over the past year had been on verification and checking rather than criminal investigations.
· Collectively over 15,000 applications had been received by the authority in total for various funding schemes devised by the Government.
· The services of external companies were employed to provide bank verification checks.
· The authority also subscribed to the National Fraud Initiative and the National Anti-Fraud Network, which sent anti-fraud alerts such as fraud trends or phishing, to prevent payments being made in error to suspicious applications.
· Combined loss avoidance and income generated savings was at £959,000.
Members were impressed with the work undertaken. In response to Members’ questions, the following information was noted:
· Fraud discovered by the authority was shared on the NFI secure website, and information was also fed back to the anti-national fraud network, as did colleagues at County Hall. Also new suspicions of fraud were also shared with the NFI network, to assist other local authorities and was a real valuable tool to find out what was happening outside of the city.
· An official contract was held with a credit reference agency to undertake bank verification checks based on information shared securely with them supplied by the applicants and provided the authority with a level of assurance that bank statements did match an applicant.
· With reference to the combined loss avoidance and income generated savings of nearly £1million, if turned on its head, it would mean there would be inaccurate or incomplete applications received across the different areas, for example, a tenancy fraud. It would be difficult to place a numerical value on tenancy fraud, so it was agreed with the Director of Finance a notional figure average of a tenancy was 10 years, and based on that figure, when tenancy fraud was committed the notional value attributed was 10 years at an average rent of approximately £37k.
· Where there was direct theft or fraud of Council Tax, the financial value would be attributed to the exact penny. There were schemes open to the authority such as the New Homes Bonus, whereby the authority was credited for bringing back into circulation empty properties. The Team would look at the empty properties every year on the Council Tax Register which would then be checked to see if they were in fact empty. Evidence found would be passed by to Revenues and Benefits to decide on whether the property should be classed as empty or not. As a direct result the Council received approximately £7k per property and an increase in funding, and was a real income generator of the authority. The service was also provided to other local authorities in the area.
The Chair thanked the Officer for the report.
1. That the report be received and its contents noted.