Action to prevent and identify fraud
Action is being taken by St Albans City and District Council to prevent and identify social housing and business grants fraud.
Officers are investigating four of the 32 applications made last year by Council tenants exercising the “right to buy” a home at a discount on the market rate.
This followed suspicions being raised about the validity of the applications during checks.
Another inquiry is underway after the Council’s anti-fraud team was alerted by five separate complaints to a possible fraud at one property.
These concerned a tenant who was said to have moved out of their home and sublet it to someone else without permission.
If confirmed, this action will be denying a household on the Council’s housing register the chance of gaining a permanent home.
Details of these and other investigations were given to a meeting of the Council’s Audit Committee on Thursday 21 January.
Another Council activity highlighted was the distribution of £27 million of COVID-19 recovery grants to local businesses on behalf of the Government.
Officers have been using a number of computer programmes to root out potentially fraudulent claims.
This software has included Spotlight and the National Fraud Initiative, provided by the Cabinet Office, which check the validity of bank accounts and other details.
As a result, one large-scale grants fraud was prevented and a further 11 applications were refused as they were deemed to be highly suspicious.
However, a random sampling of 30 grants that were subjected to intense scrutiny found them all to be in order, suggesting satisfactory controls are in place.
The Council encourages people to report suspected fraud against any of its activities via its website or a phone line. Details are here: https://www.stalbans.gov.uk/fraud
In the past four months, 18 reports have been made this way with 11 of the cases now under investigation.
Councillor Julian Daly, the Committee’s Chair, said:
We are legally obliged as a Council to take robust action against fraud and it is clear that we are keeping on top of this issue.
Every pound lost to fraud is a pound that is lost to the task of delivering important public services for the benefit of our whole community.
The vast majority of our social housing tenants are thoroughly law abiding, so we focus on the handful that try and cheat the system.
This might involve illegally subletting a Council flat, for example, or trying to buy a property at a discount when they do not have the right to do so. The victims of these scams are people who have been waiting on our housing register for a place of their own.
Another concern has been to ensure that the millions of pounds of grants the Council has been distributing to our local businesses only get into the right hands. A presentation to the Committee showed that the anti-fraud team, supported by the very latest software, has been active in preventing this.
Some financial support is still available to local businesses to help them through the pandemic with information available on the Council’s website: https://www.stalbans.gov.uk/covid-19-business-support.