Since 2010, the Conservative Government has systematically reduced the amount of Revenue Support Grant Funding to local authorities. In South Kesteven this means the District Council is fast reaching the point where it will receive no funding from central government under normal circumstances (The Covid19 pandemic is not normal).
Consequently, most council services are funded by income raised directly by the council in the form of Council Tax, business rates and sold services. Fraud has always reduced the income of local councils but the impact of council tax and other frauds now has a greater relative impact. The financial cost to the council of fraud could be somewhere in the region of £1million.
There is a difference between deliberate fraud and a genuine mistake. You only have to look at some of the forms relating to tax credits and other benefits to realise they are often complicated and sometimes require a forensic level of detail about earnings which many people do not have to hand. Within an annual report on ‘Counter Fraud’ being presented to the SKDC Governance and Audit Ctte this week is a table which suggests that £561,765 was overpaid in Housing Benefit last year. Well over half of this amount was recovered from the claimants and it would be wrong to assume that all the mistakes were made by the claimants (rather than the council) let alone that any large proportion of the overpayments were the result of deliberate fraud.
Lincolnshire has a counter fraud partnership and the County Council manages a Confidential Reporting Line for whistleblowers as a central point of contact for people wishing to report suspected fraud.
An analysis of district related referrals made to the Whistleblowers’ line during 2019-20 identified that 125 referrals were received ( compared to 102 in 2018/19). The maintype of referrals relate to council tax and housing tenancy fraud.
Of the 125 referrals received by Assurance Lincolnshire, 41 related to South Kesteven. As can be seen from the graph above, the annual number of reports relating to SKDC has climbed steadily in recent years. Increased reports to the Whistleblowers’ line is thought to be more likely an indicator that fraud awareness is reaching a wider audience rather than purely an increase in the amount of frauds being committed.
All 41 whistleblowing allegations have been investigated and action taken where appropriate (although most involved no further action or referral to the DWP).
If you wish to report an alleged fraud, or would like more information about whistleblowing, you can contact the confidential freephone whistleblowing number on 0800 0853716
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile here’s a clip of some good old fashion whistleblowing of a different kind…