Decision Maker: Audit and Governance Committee
Decision status: Item Deferred
Is Key decision?: Yes
Is subject to call in?: No
The Shared Anti-Fraud Service (SAFS) Officer presented a report updating the Committee on recent SAFS work. He said some activities, such as face-to-face training, remained suspended due to COVID-19. However, SAFS was still able to support the Council, such as through post payment assurance on grant payments given during the pandemic, and work with external bodies to counter phishing scams. Whilst the Officer responsible for SAFS casework specifically relating to East Herts District Council was on maternity leave, her caseload had been covered by other Officers. There had been a reduction in referrals to SAFS during the pandemic. This was addressed by a fraud awareness campaign which reached 350,000 residents, and saw visits to the fraud reporting webpages increase significantly.
The Chairman and Councillor Ward-Booth asked about any fraud that had been uncovered as part of the COVID-19 grant scheme, and whether the particular time pressure of this exercise meant that Officers were forced into ‘taking chances’.
The SAFS Officer said that a number of potentially fraudulent payments had been identified, but in relation to the volume of payments that had been made, the level of fraud represented a very low proportion of the total payments. Members should be assured that Officers and the Council had performed well, and where there were doubts over applications, further enquiries were made or more supporting evidence requested from applicants.
The Chairman asked about the reference in the report to International Fraud Awareness Week. He also asked what ‘proactive’ fraud referrals were considered to be, and whether the SAFS Officer foresaw that these would constitute a larger proportion of referrals in future.
The SAFS Officer said the International Fraud Awareness Week was an opportunity for the Council to take advantage of wider publicity to make residents aware of how to report potential fraud locally, and also protect themselves against fraud. Proactive referrals were instances in which SAFS had itself discovered potential fraud - such as by carrying out data matching exercises - rather than reacting to referrals from Officers or the public. Members were advised that the level of such proactive referrals depended on SAFS’ resources, and the number of external referrals remained an important source of work.
Councillor Corpe asked about the third key performance indicator (KPI), which was highlighted in amber on the report, despite action on referrals being taken within an average of two days at present. He asked whether, if this was an average response time, did this mean there were some referrals actioned outside of the target timeframe and, if so, what was the percentage of such referrals.
The SAFS Officer said that the KPI was highlighted in amber because although the target was currently being met, this could change. He said that he would respond to Members on the other point after the meeting as he did not have these figures to hand, but every urgent referral was actioned within two days and every other referral within a week.
The Chairman said that although costs had increased, the SAFS still represented good value for money, given the savings achieved through the prevention of fraud. He asked about the progress of the Fraud Hub and in particular whether this would be an additional cost to the Council and when it would be established.
The SAFS Officer said the Fraud Hub would cost the Council approximately £4,000 a year. He explained that the Council was required to take part in the National Fraud Initiative every two years, which was conducted by the Cabinet Office. Large scale data analysis was undertaken in order to identify possible fraud, which was then fed back to the Council to act upon. It generally took around five months for this feedback to be given following the initial snapshot, by which time SAFS had often already acted upon this possible fraud.
Members were advised that the Fraud Hub aimed to replicate this process at a local level, which would allow the Council to act upon this information more quickly, increasing its value. The implementation date would need to be discussed with the Head of Legal and Democratic Services and the Head of Strategic Finance and Property, and a meeting was scheduled to address this.
RESOLVED – that the work of the Council and the Shared Anti-Fraud Service in delivering the 2020/21 Anti-Fraud Plan be noted.
Report author: Suhel Nagori
Publication date: 12/10/2020
Date of decision: 22/09/2020
Decided at meeting: 22/09/2020 - Audit and Governance Committee