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Team that tackles cheats and crooks could lose out to new national body
The future of a local fraud unit battling benefit cheats, blue badge fraudsters and Council crooks is in doubt, a meeting heard.
A committee has spoken of its concerns that the Council’s fraud team, which has been praised for its good work locally, may lose its funding from next year once the Government has created a national body doing similar work.
Bradford Council’s newly-created Corporate Fraud Unit identifies benefit cheats, social housing tenancy fraudsters or those fraudulently using disabled blue badge parking permits.
It also investigates Council employees suspected of committing fraud at work.
In 2013-14, its first full year, the team identified £1.2m in public money lost through fraud, corruption or theft, including around £900,000 lost from Council coffers.
It works with the courts to get this cash returned by getting the criminals prosecuted then stripped of their ill-gotten gains.
The unit, which costs £711,000 a year, estimates it also saved the Council a further £150,000 this year, which fraudsters could have got their hands on if they hadn’t been caught.
Of 920 investigations, fraud or corruption was discovered in 590 cases. This led to six Council staff being dismissed, 73 prosecutions and 192 other sanctions such as fines.
This work was praised yesterday by the Council’s Governance and Audit Committee, after the team gave a report on its achievements over the past year.
Committee chairman, Councillor Lynne Smith (Lab), said: “We welcome the report and congratulate the unit. Please congratulate all your staff on our behalf.” But the unit, funded mainly by the Department for Work and Pensions, faces an uncertain future.
Its funding may be pulled from April next year as the Government is creating a Single Fraud Investigation Service to look into welfare benefit fraud across the country.
Coun Smith said: “I remain slightly worried whether a national unit can be as effective as the one that we have created. Time will tell on that.
“I can see the benefits of sharing information across a broader geographical area, but we do that anyway.”
She said the figures showed the unit was proving to be good value for money.
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