Lord Freud announces council pilots for merged benefit fraud squad
Published by 24publishing for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Communities, Legal, Local Government, Universal Credit
Lord Freud announces pilots for merged benefit fraud squad
Welfare reform minister Lord Freud has announced four councils to pilot a single integrated fraud investigation service with powers to probe and and sanction all benefit and tax credit offences.
According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), benefit and tax credit fraud and error is estimated to cost £5.3bn per year.
Currently, investigations into suspected wrongdoings are currently carried out by the DWP’s Fraud Investigation Service and by local authorities separately. Tax Credit fraud is currently investigated by HMRC.
Ministers believe the current 'silo-based' approach system is inefficient and want a Single Investigation Sevice from April next year which will also investigate Universal Credit fraud.
Speaking at the Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation Annual Conference and Exhibition earlier this month, Lord Freud announced that Corby Borough Council, Glasgow City Council, the London Borough of Hillingdon and Wrexham Council will be going ahead to test the model for the single service.
He said: "We will also look at how the Single Investigation Service can work in partnership with other fraud teams – for example when a housing fraud leads to the uncovering of a living together fraud or a criminal gang exploiting the benefits system wholesale.
"This will save the countless hours spent working across different branches of government as we try to nail these criminals."
He added: "We are also calling on other councils who have not yet become involved, to engage with us to work with us as we move forward.
"The success here – as with much of what I have discussed – depends on all partners coming together to help us make sure that services are delivered successfully on the ground."
In an impact statement the DWP published last year it admitted the plan was a "major project involving organisational changes, new IT infrastructure, and additional resource as workloads will increase".
It said provision has been agreed for increasing the number of fraud investigators by around 200 and it expects an increase in the volume of sanctions of 14% considered independently of other changes to the sanctions regime and strategy, 21% including other changes.
The department says the move is an obvious choice as it seeks to bring together the organisations that deal with compliance to sit in the same single organisation that will be delivering Universal Credit.
It says there will be a net cost to the service in the spending review period up to 2015, but that from 2015/16 onwards the annual administrative savings will be approximately twice the £18m savings estimated for 2014/15.