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Council’s fraud team recover more than £200,000 of overpayments

SWANSEA Council’s two-man fraud team has helped recover more than £200,000 of overpayments back to the public purse, but it was almost a third less than the previous year.

The money included housing and council tax benefits paid to residents which they weren’t entitled to.

Unlawfully sub-let council properties were also targeted.

Another area the team looked into in 2018-19 was wrongly claimed council tax reductions, for example where a person says they’re the only person in a property when more people live there.

Some of this work was carried out with the Department for Work and Pensions, and the total value of the overpayments was £203,019.

The council’s audit committee was told this was nearly £90,000 less than the previous year, mainly due to a fall in the number of cases investigated.

Councillors heard the team, which used to have three members, achieved six of nine planned activities during the year.

Councillor Mike White said he wanted to see more focus on suspected procurement fraud.

Fraud team member Jeff Fish said: “It is a priority – it is one of the key areas we want to look at.”

Committee chairwoman Paula O’Connor, who is not a councillor, said she also wanted to see a spotlight on procurement and management controls and called for more proactive rather than reactive work.

The fraud team’s report also said it investigated 34 suspected fraud cases involving council employees, half of which had been brought forward from the previous year.

The cases included theft, abuse of flexi-time, and working while on sick leave – and in two instances employees were dismissed.

Ben Smith, the council’s chief finance officer, told the committee that the team’s work acted as a deterrent.

He added: “The vast majority of residents and employees comport themselves correctly.”

The fraud team’s other member, Jonathon Rogers, said in April this year that proactive work had not been possible due to the diminished size of the team.

But he added: “We don’t have to look for fraud at the moment – it’s looking for us.”

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