Fraud investigations are on the rise in the East Riding, with councillors warning that “Big Brother is watching you”.
Referrals for suspicious activity have increased by almost 17% compared to 2017, while subsequent investigations by fraud officers have risen by more than 10%.
Figures from a report to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council overview management committee found that the authority’s fraud investigation team conducted a total of 806 investigations between April and September last year.
Of these, more than half (438 investigations) related to fraud and error involving council tax support awards, which brought in a total recovery of £277,124.
There has also been an 81% increase in investigations into single person discounts for council tax, with 147 taking place compared to 81 during the same period in 2017.
Andy Hardy, fraud investigation manager at the council, said: “It is unusual in one way [but] it’s not something that we can’t cope with because what’s happened is we now have an officer that’s purely looking at data matching and that’s because we’ve had that increase.”
Data matching is where a data intelligence officer matches various internal and external records using software applications, which reports back inconsistencies that in turn helps to identify fraud and error.
As a result 224 out of the 438 investigations into council tax support identified of overpayments worth £99,314, while 128 out of the 147 single person tax discount investigations showed up overpayments of £19,257.
It was also confirmed that investigations into fraudulent housing tenancies led to the termination of 24 tenancies, which in turn has opened up the properties to other members of the public with housing needs.
The fraud investigation team received 916 referrals for suspicion of fraud between April and September last year, a 16.8% increase (132) when compared with the same period in 2017.
Investigations undertaken as a consequence of these referrals increased from 729 to 806, an rise of 10.6%.
Referrals can be received from a variety of sources, including calls to a fraud hotline, emails to the fraud email account, anonymous letters and from work conducted by the investigation team itself.
The report by the council’s director of corporate resources Darren Stevens added that investigations into housing tenancy fraud has the potential to save the authority between £1.7m and £3.6m during 2018-19.
Councillor Felicity Temple said: “The vast majority of members of public out there, most of them hate the fact that somebody else is getting something for nothing and I think it’s very important that we really highlight the work of the fraud team and prove that fraud in the East Riding is just not worth it because you will get caught.”