More than £3 million of public money has been prevented from falling into the hands of fraudsters in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme since the launch of a fraud partnership.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council, working with Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, created the Staffordshire Counter Fraud Partnership in 2019 to combine resources aimed at tackling fraud against both authorities.
Fraudsters do not necessarily operate within council boundaries, therefore by working together resources are now targeted more effectively and there is an increased exchange of intelligence. This long-term approach is helping to increase the authorities’ abilities to tackle fraudsters, and ultimately safeguard public funds.
More than 200 cases of fraud were identified in 2019/20 including:
- 22 tenancy terminations due to housing tenancy fraud
- 24 cases of fraud relating to Right to Buy – the national scheme that allows tenants the legal right to purchase their council house
- Seven involving the council tax reduction scheme
- 68 involving the council tax single person discount
- 35 cases of blue badge misuse
- Three high -value cases relating to adult social care payments
The Staffordshire Counter Fraud Partnership focuses on a number of different fraudulent activities in areas including:
- Council tax discount schemes
- Housing tenancy fraud
- Right to Buy
- Business rates
- Social care payments
- Blue badges
Now, as part of the partnership, both councils are set to re-launch the public awareness campaign ‘Spot the Cheater’ to encourage people across Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme to report their suspicions of fraud and corruption.
The campaign will first focus on one of the most widespread frauds committed against councils, housing tenancy fraud. Offences include:
- subletting a council property without permission
- providing false information in a housing application
- failing to use a property as the principal home
- abandoning the property or selling the key to a third party
Other councils in Staffordshire are also being encouraged to join the partnership and to help make Staffordshire a more difficult place for fraudsters to operate in.
Councillor Abi Brown, leader of the city council said: “Our investigators work hard to root out those who wrongly reckon they can cheat the system and get away with it. Non benefit frauds have a far greater direct financial and social harm impact on local people and local taxpayers.
“Through the creation of the Staffordshire Counter Fraud Partnership we can now identify emerging fraud risks across boundaries and develop joined up strategies to tackle these. Partnership-wide fraud reporting mechanisms have also been implemented making it easier for residents to report their suspicions.
“We are now building a strong anti-fraud culture across Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme. The city council has a zero tolerance approach towards fraud and will always apply the full force of the law to prosecute where appropriate.”
Cllr. Stephen Sweeney, Borough Cabinet member for finance and efficiency, added: “Our fraud investigator is working closely with the city council as part of this long-term initiative to prevent opportunities, detect incidents early, deal with investigations in a prompt, thorough and professional manner and pursue criminal prosecutions on all possible occasions.
“There will be various Spot the Cheater campaigns covering different types of fraud including wrongly claiming Council Tax discounts, which is a particular issue in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and business rates.
“The Borough Council is committed to ensuring the best use of its resources on behalf of taxpayers. It will not tolerate any form of fraud under any circumstances. The value lost through this criminal activity is significant which impacts on services and undermines the achievement of our objectives.
“The protection of the public purse is everyone’s business and I would encourage anyone with concerns to contact the joint fraud hub.”
Anyone can report suspected fraudulent activity by calling the councils’ hotline 01782 236800 or online at stoke.gov.uk/fraud. All reports will be treated confidentially and can be made anonymously.
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