District Council cracking down on fraud

Over £412,000 worth of fraud was detected by Wealden’s investigations team last year.

Some 69 referrals were investigated by the team during 2018/19 concluding in 38 cases of fraud against the Council. In some cases, the attempted fraud has been stopped. In other cases, efforts are being made to recuperate all the outstanding money.

Typical of the cases uncovered by the Counter Fraud Unit were fraudulent Right to Buy claims submitted for council-owned properties. The maximum discount a tenant can receive on a Right to Buy property is 70%. In one case, checks revealed that the purchase was not being funded by the applicant’s fiancé, as claimed, but by a property management company based in Bexhill.

Another investigation involved an anonymous tipoff that a council house tenant owned a property elsewhere. Investigations by the Counter Fraud Unit revealed that, although the person had been living in a council house for seven years, they also owned a property in Crewe which was rented out. The Wealden council house has now been re-let to an eligible tenant.

“Since 2014, the Council has taken a proactive role in seeking to identify and stop fraud wherever it occurs,” said Councillor Bob Standley, Cabinet member in charge of Finance. “The Council works with Sussex Police, neighbouring authorities and East Sussex County Council. At the start of this financial year we began joint working with the Department of Work and Pensions. The Unit is currently working on six cases with the DWP’s Fraud Investigation Service.

“Prevention is an important part of the work we do in combating fraud. We do rely on information from the public when they suspect fraud involving taxpayers’ money is taking place. We have a confidential freephone hotline, 0800 731 7039 so people can provide information. They can also use an online form on the Wealden website.

The value of the social housing frauds uncovered in last year’s investigations was £233,260 and includes Right to Buy discounts saved. Some investigations can also lead to the identification of rental arrears which are then recovered. Some £79,095 of housing benefit fraud was identified by the team. These cases were passed to the DWP to investigate.

The emphasis of this year’s work continues to be with Council Tax Reduction Scheme, Non-Domestic Rates, Right to Buy and Housing Tenancy cases. Wealden’s Counter Fraud Unit also works with the Council’s Planning Enforcement Team, offering advice on evidence and case preparation on planning enforcement action.

In the past five years, the Counter Fraud Unit has successfully detected nearly £1.9 million worth of fraud against the Council