This report provides an update on the National Fraud Initiative (NFI) exercise.
This report provided details of an update on the National Fraud Initiative (NFI) exercise.This was a nationwide data matching exercise, comparing computer records held by the Council against other computer records held by councils and other public bodies, with a view to identifying potential instances of fraud or irregularity.
The Head of Audit and Counter Fraud gave a detailed introduction and referred the Committee to the overall summary as set out in paragraphs 3.39 and 3.40 of the report which highlighted savings of just over £327,000 as a result of this work. He provided an update on the 2019/20 Council Tax exercise by stating that all 2,946 electoral roll matches (single person discount) had now been checked and that just 250 needed further enquiries with 50 of those matches having also been identified in another report relating to HMRC data.
Members then raised a number of questions and comments which included:
Blue Badges – it was noted that there was no evidence of fraud/error in the investigation on the 625 matches on blue badges.
Publicity – In response to a question as to whether this work could be publicised, partly to act as a deterrent, the Head of Audit and Counter Fraud stated he would contact the Communications team on this matter.
Accessibility – in response to a question regarding the future presentation of the report to make the report more understandable, for example the inclusion of tables, the Head of Audit and Counter Fraud took on board these comments and undertook to look into, for example, the use of tables in future.
Reporting period – in response to a question seeking clarity on the reporting period for this report, the Head of Audit and Counter Fraud stated that the team submitted various datasets to the Government in October each year, and in the following January the Council would receive the results (data matches) on a secure website. The Council would then have to assess these matches. Therefore, for the 2018/19 exercise, the Council submitted the datasets in October 2018 and received the data matches back in January 2019. He stated that the subsequent work undertaken fell across two financial years. In August 2019, as a pilot, further data matches were received from HMRC. He also explained the process around council tax and electoral roll information and the eventual need to switch attention to the newer 2019/20 data matches in an attempt to catch up before the 2020/21 round.
In response to a question as to the number of matches which had not been checked, the Head of Audit and Counter Fraud stated that whilst 70% of matches remained unchecked, most of these would already be subject to other checks, for example, the Finance team had processes in place to investigate duplicate payments. He explained that undertaking the checks on the 70% may not necessarily lead to making many further savings.
Effect of pandemic on fraud – in response to a question relating to the impact of the redeployment of the team earlier in the year, the Head of Audit and Counter Fraud explained that there had been no choice on this matter given the pandemic and that Local Authorities up and down the country had done the same thing. In response to a comment that there may be an increase in fraudulent claims as a result of the financial impact of the pandemic, the Head of Audit and Counter Fraud shared these comments and pointed out that a number of reports in the media related to the furlough scheme which was a matter for the Government. It was unclear what the impact would be on the Local Authority at this stage.
Benefits claims – in response to a question on the issue of investigating fraudulent benefit claims, the Head of Audit and Counter Fraud explained that this matter was dealt with by the Department for Work and Pensions. Matters in this report related to the work of the Revenue and Benefits team.
Recovery of overpayments – in response to a question relating to the recovery of overpayments, the Head of Audit and Counter Fraud confirmed that steps were taken to seek repayments, for example, sums would be added back on to Council tax bills as arrears. The overpayment relating to the care home, as set out in paragraph 3.39 of the report, had been recovered in the next payment run.
The Committee noted the report.