£16m Found In Fraud Initiative

26 June 2014, 06:27 | Updated: 26 June 2014, 06:28

Fraud and errors worth £16 million including stolen housing benefit and money claimed by illegal immigrants have been identified by the public spending watchdog.

Audit Scotland found £10.5 million of fraud and errors in 2012 and 2013 through public bodies sharing information as part of the National Fraud Initiative (NFI).

A further £5.5 million has also been recouped through investigations initiated during the previous NFI period in 2010/11.

Ten overseas students were found claiming student support without a valid visa, six fewer than the previous NFI period.

One illegal immigrant was caught fraudulently claiming £53,806 student funding after the Home Office told the student awards agency that their visa expired ten years ago.

Another illegal immigrant claimed £17,138 student support with a photocopied residence permit and an overseas worker earned £77,290 four years after their work visa expired.

Some 1,862 housing benefit payments were stopped or reduced, leading to 92 prosecutions.

One fraudster claimed £70,000 of housing benefit while their partner was working and was caught when benefits agencies compared address information with payroll income.

Another claimed £164,850 of housing and council tax benefit from one council while working in an another area, and was caught after the resident council obtained the fraudster's licence to sell alcohol from the other local authority.

NFI investigations also stopped 2,876 disabled parking permits, 302 student housing benefits cases and 96 occupational pensions.

Five employees were dismissed or resigned, three invalid student visas were identified and one failed asylum seeker was found.

Assistant Auditor General for Scotland Russell Frith said: "The outcomes of the NFI are a significant return to the public finances of Scotland at a time when they continue to be under pressure.

"Fraud does not recognise organisational or geographic boundaries and the NFI has proven time and again that data-sharing is an effective and efficient way to quickly identify issues for further investigation.

"Tools are available to help organisations get more from data-sharing and maximise the benefit of engaging in exercises like the NFI.

"We'd encourage bodies to equip themselves with the resources they need to tackle fraud in the future, particular within housing benefits and corporates services.''

Scottish Conservative local government spokesman Cameron Buchanan said: "Fraud is a very serious matter for the public sector and something it can ill-afford to be vulnerable to.

"The public will be stunned that millions of pounds of wrongdoing has been detected in this way, and no doubt this is only the tip of the iceberg.

"There will be plenty of fraud that hasn't been uncovered and that's why councils, the NHS and the Scottish Government should look at this report and establish what they are going to do to combat this more successfully.

"Those who are found guilty of defrauding the public purse should be dealt with very seriously by the courts.

"That is the only way to ensure this kind of behaviour is prevented in future.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government has a zero tolerance approach to fraud and a high degree of commitment to the National Fraud Initiative.

"We welcome the outcomes delivered by the 2012/13 exercise and are working with public bodies across Scotland and Audit Scotland to continue to improve how we protect public resources now and in the future.''