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Audit Commission wants more housing associations to tackle fraud, all-round naughtiness

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Audit Commission wants more housing associations to tackle fraud, all-round naughtiness

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Published by Brian Church for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Finance

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Housing benefit gets the bronze 'medal' in a table of shame and the Audit Commission has called for more housing associations to take part in the National Fraud Initiative (NFI).

In its final report as part of the Audit Commission before moving to the Cabinet Office next year, the NFI's data matching exercise identified a further £229 million of fraud, overpayment or error in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, since it last reported in May 2012. That represents a fall of £46 million (11%) since the national figures were released in May 2012.

The highest value categories identified in England continue to be pensions (£74m), followed by council tax single person discount (£39m) and then housing benefit (£33m).

"We publish a report from the NFI every two years and continue to produce great results," said Audit Commission chairman Jeremy Newman. "The more participants in the exercise, the richer the data for everyone involved and the harder it is for fraudsters to hide from detection. We know there are areas struggling to tackle fraud effectively, such as in the housing sector, and with only 35 housing associations participating in the exercise, we need greater involvement to get even better results in this area."

The latest report shows that 86 properties have been recovered for social housing and 2,394 false applications removed from housing waiting lists. Intriguingly, 21,396 blue badges and 78,443 concessionary travel passes, identified as invalid, were cancelled.

Fraudsters often target different organisations at the same time, using the same bogus identities. The NFI combats this threat by data matching information held by 1,300 different organisations.

Although the total value of cases of fraud, overpayment or error identified by the NFI is lower, the number of cases rose by 19.4% over the same period. The commission believes “this potentially indicates that participants are increasingly effective at the early detection of fraud, overpayment and error”. It said this will have been helped by the Commission’s introduction of a new service, NFI Flexible Data Matching, which has made it possible for participants to undertake near-instantaneous data matching at any time.

In 2012, the Commission highlighted that only two central government departments, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Highways Agency, were actively involved in the initiative. The exercise now has 13 central bodies taking part.

The new Single Fraud Investigation Service will eventually investigate all welfare fraud perpetrated against the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs and local authorities. During the transition, the Commission is “concerned that housing benefit investigations will suffer as responsibilities shift. A decrease in the number of councils utilising an optional data match (housing benefit against student loans data) provides an early indication that this could be the case. The NFI is working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to mitigate, where possible, negative impacts that result from this change in policy”.

One group deserving all its money is, unsurprisingly, the NFI.

"The NFI has identified over £1.17 billion in fraud, error and overpayment since its launch," Newman said. "The overall value of the fraud, overpayment and error found is 82 times greater than the £1.4 million a year cost, representing excellent value for money."

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