Headlines: October 27th, 2010

Local authorities detected frauds totalling 135 million pounds last year. Figures today show that in 119,000 cases councils uncovered about 99 million pounds worth of benefit fraud, more than 15 million in council tax cheating and saved 21 million pounds by spotting false insurance claims, abuse of the disabled parking ‘badges and other matters.

The figures from the Audit Commission’s latest national report, ‘Protecting the Public Purse 2010 – Fighting fraud against local government and local taxpayers’ – also show that in a record-breaking year for tenancy fraud detection, almost 1,600 unlawfully sub-let social housing properties were recovered. The Commission estimates, however, that as many as 50,000 houses and flats are still occupied illegally.

The Commission says the fraud menace is draining money from cash-starved councils. It says housing tenancy fraud is now significantly affecting the country’s economy with temporary accommodation for homeless families costing almost a billion pounds a year. Councils also stopped 48,000 fraudulent council tax discount claims.

The Chairman of the Audit Commission, Michael O’Higgins, said: “Preventing and detecting fraud has never been more vital. Every pound saved can be used to strengthen public services. Cheats must not be allowed to block legitimate tenants from social housing, or divert other resources away from those in need.”

Councils were performing well, he said, but needed to be more and more vigilant.