Council's Fraud Squad Demonstrate Their Worth

In a report to the Council's Audit Committee on Thursday (30 July), Central Bedfordshire Council's Corporate Fraud Investigation Team (CFIT) presented an annual report demonstrating that they were value-for-money.

The report explains that CFIT was created in 2015 within the Revenues and Benefits service to prevent, detect, investigate and report fraud. The team consists of a very experienced investigator with 4 full-time investigators, supported by a Team Leader and Senior Manager, both of whom also have other responsibilities within the service area. All staff on the team are fully trained counter-fraud officers holding their professionalism in Security accreditation from Portsmouth University. 

During 2019/20 over £50,336 was saved with regard to Local Council Tax Support fraud. In the same period, £666,000 was saved related to housing fraud. In a Blue Badge campaign in 2019/20  nine prosecutions were made and six warning letters were issued for incorrect usage.

Summary of Results

*The savings in the table above compare favourably with the total cost of the Corporate Fraud Investigation Team (CFIT) of £189k.
For a full explanation of the table, refer to the Council report

Illustrative Case Work

The report listed some case studies to illustrate the work they do:

1. The Blue Badge Misuse

On a targeted enforcement day in November 2019 a Fraud Officer and Civil Enforcement Officer were inspecting Blue Badges displayed in cars parked outside a leisure venue. There were 4 cars parked in the disabled bays, very near to the venue’s access.  It transpired 3 of the cars related to care-home employees, out with a group of severely disabled residents on an organised day trip. The 4th car was not. When Mr X returned to the car he said that his wife, the badge holder, had come to the venue with him and had been taken very ill. However he hadn’t taken her home, a friend had and the friend would be able to corroborate this. Contact was made with the leisure venue who assisted in providing CCTV which proved Mr X had come alone and not with his wife the badge holder. When interviewed under caution he admitted this was the case. Mr X is being prosecuted and will now have a criminal record and a large fine.It was poignant on this day how important the disabled bays were for the group of severely disabled residents.  On the day in question there were over 20 available spaces in the car park, so there was no reason for Mr X to use a disabled bay.

2. The Housing Fraud

An anonymous allegation was received that the tenant of a 3-bed social housing property in a CBC village had gone to live in Canada and was letting the property to family members. The tenant also intended to apply to purchase the property under the Right to Buy Scheme. The Fraud Officer left contact cards at the property, Mrs X, the tenant, responded and advised she was away for a couple of weeks. Mrs X then maintained that the Police had instructed her to leave the house temporarily due to concerns regarding her safety (which if true would be a serious matter), she was in Canada however and intended to return soon. Checks with the school showed the children were no longer attending, the reason given was they had moved to Canada. Checks with the Police confirmed Mrs X had been liaising with them about a matter,  however, they had not instructed her to leave the property and in fact, as far as they were concerned, she told them she had plans to emigrate. Border Agency details were obtained and confirmed she had emigrated.

The information was put to Mrs X and she still maintained she was away temporarily due to a risk to her safety, however when the Fraud Officer explained the matter was being taken further she declined to correspond any further on the basis she was suffering from extreme stress.  Mrs X immediately returned the keys. She never returned to the UK. 

2. Tenancy Fraud

A tenant had died and Mr X, applied to succeed the tenancy on the basis he was resident with the tenant as her long-term partner and had been resident for over 20 years. There is a need to be resident for 12 months before a tenancy can be succeeded. Housing Benefit records where checked and the deceased tenant had declared she was living alone. Mr X also stated the deceased tenant and his daughter was resident at the property. 

Several lines of enquiry were followed up, none of which resulted in Mr X being placed as a resident at the property before the tenant died. When he was formally interviewed Mr X said he did split up with the tenant some years back but had moved back in 2 years earlier.  He had not got around to updating his address records, however, his employer would confirm he had been at the tenant’s address since 2017. 

Information was subsequently supplied from Mr X’s employer, it stated that they held Mr X address as the tenant’s address since 2017. However, when this was clarified further it transpired Mr X had only notified his employer of this after he made his succession application. Further enquiries also established the daughter was placed at another address. The succession application was refused, and this property will be let to a family in genuine need.

3. School Place Fraud

 Ms X applied for a school place for her daughter at a popular school.  The matter was referred for investigation because Council Tax records indicated she may not be resident at the address declared. When interviewed Ms X stated she had moved out of the matrimonial home in Bedford and was now living in Central Bedfordshire, with her father. However, the investigation established that she was still presenting herself as living with her husband in Bedford. When the evidence was put before her, Ms X admitted she had not given the correct information on the school place application.  The school place was therefore not offered.

4. Dishonestly Trying to Obtain Social Housing

Mr X applied for Housing on significant medical grounds and his only income was Disability Benefits.  He stated he had split from his wife and children and was currently living in a flat above a restaurant, owned by a family member.  It was referred for investigation due to anomalies on bank statements he provided. Firstly, the Fraud Officer arranged for his Housing Benefit to be stopped as he had failed to declare he was related to his landlord when he applied for Housing Benefit. Several lines of enquiries were made that indicated he was still living with his wife and despite declaring himself as disabled, (and his only income Disability Benefits) he was an Uber Driver in London earning a substantial amount of money. 

When Mr X was formally interviewed, he denied he was living with his wife and said he was a London Uber taxi driver for therapeutic reasons. Several unannounced visits were made to the flat and Mr X was never found to be there.  

At an appointed visit a Fraud Officer met him at the flat, he met the Fraud Officer outside as he had just turned up, too. The flat was up two flights of stairs and found to be very run down. The bathroom had no toiletries and when this was queried Mr X said he did not use the bathroom, he used one at his gym. When asked where his toothbrush was, he said he did not use one, he just swirled the water around his mouth. He then spotted a very old toothbrush on the floor and said that was his, but this was very dirty and dusty. 

Mr X showed what he said was his bedroom (up another flight of stairs) and there was hardly anything in it. Mr X said his flat had been burgled and they had taken everything including his underwear.  The Fraud Officer did explain they found this hard to believe as it would mean the burglars would have to come through the restaurant and up 3 flights of stairs to just steal his clothes and underwear.  Mr X maintained this was correct. 

Despite Mr X’s continued assertions, third party evidence placed him at his wife’s home and he was refused housing.  The matter was also referred to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) regarding his Uber earnings. The investigation prevented Mr X obtaining social housing he was not entitled to, meaning someone in genuine need would.

5. Benefits Fraud

Mr X was being paid Council Tax Support (and Housing Benefit) based on Jobseekers Allowance.  Officers of the Council started a new data-matching regime with the DWP which indicated Jobseekers Allowance had stopped 5 years earlier.  The Fraud Officer established evidenced that Mr X had been working and tracked down his employer who confirmed Mr X’s earnings for the last 5 years. 

When Mr X was formally interviewed, he said he had been waiting for this day.  He knew he should have told us, but he did not and the longer it went on the harder it got. He said it was a weight off his mind that it had been discovered. He just spent the money on everyday living. He was successfully prosecuted, so now has a criminal record.  He had to repay over £3,000 Local Council Tax Support and £17,000 Housing Benefit that he was not entitled to and pay £1,000 in legal costs, fines and a victim surcharge.

6. Incorrect Claim for Single Person Council Tax Discount 

Anonymous allegation received from an astute neighbour of an empty property, that a Council Tax Single Person discount was being claimed by Mr X.  Single Person Discounts cannot be claimed unless the property is someone’s main residence.  The issue for the neighbour was the state of Mr X’s garden and in particular the impact of his overgrown trees. The neighbour supplied copies of texts in which she discussed the problem with Mr X.  The Fraud Officer tracked down the address Mr X was living in, and found him to be living elsewhere with his new partner.  The Single Person Discount was stopped, and Mr X was billed for an extra £1,500.  The matter of the trees and the empty house was referred to the Council’s Empty Homes Team.  

If you have any concerns about a matter which might constitute fraud, find further information at the CBC website.

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