The report presented to members outlined the performance of the team over the last year, 2021/22, as well as proposed the new Counter Fraud strategy and proactive work plan to tackle fraud for the council in 2022/23.
Councillor Carter referred to page 235 of the agenda, finances, and thanked the Counter Fraud Investigation team for their hard work and for the applaudable detection of more than £2.3 million of fraud from various sources whilst also recovering £1.9 million.
Councillor Raper also referred to page 235 of the agenda, referred to the secondment of staff and whether the partner contributions covered the on-site budget to which Nick Coker stated it would.
Councillor Ononaji referred to page 231, results and statistics, of the agenda and questioned why Housing was the highest in the crime type categories in the number of suspected fraud and active investigations. Nick Coker stated housing fraud had always been a big part of the council’s investigations team, there had been factors over the period of the COVID pandemic with lockdowns, restrictions on visiting people in their homes and people isolating. Therefore, it had become difficult to detect, implement outstanding or normal investigation processes and to identify instances of house fraud such as subletting or abandonment. Councillor Ononaji asked what steps were being taken to reduce those housing fraud activities or possibly stop them from happening to which Nick Coker stated the team worked closely with officers from the housing department, provided training to officers, officers would be more visible within the social housing scene and by visiting tenants. Measures were in place to reduce the number of incidences of housing fraud and when such cases were uncovered the appropriate action would be taken. Councillor Ononaji questioned whether improvements could be made to manage this area to which Nick Coker stated it was a difficult area to manage given the way in which people lived their lives and every possible measure was being undertaken to reduce the number of incidences and to give those homes to families that genuinely needed them.
Lisa Laybourn also referred to page 231 of the agenda and to the total of open investigations being £1.7 million and asked for a brief explanation on how those figures were calculated, such as how many investigations were open, those being conducted and how far back some of the fraud went. Nick Coker stated that for some incidences such as housing it was quite difficult to quantify but other cases such as money laundering and social care revenues cases a more precise figure could be given. There were standard guidelines in relation to calculating fraud which were followed by the Counter Fraud Investigation Team. There was also a criminal finance team, accredited financial investigations and intelligence officers who were key to calculating many of the figures in the report.
Councillor Snell referred to the same tables on page 231, Insider Threats, and questioned what the prevalence of this was and whether this was diminishing over time to which Nick Coker stated this was not hugely prevalent in the council and although he did not have the exact figures to hand this maybe something the committee might like to revisit and bring to committee at another time.
Charles Clarke referred to page 231, Insider Threats, and asked for some clarification on the number of reported suspected frauds compared to the active investigation figures to which Nick Coker stated that figure could change during the course of an investigation and would need to look at the specifies of each investigation to identify what may have changed that figure or what the process of investigation had been to have amended or changed that figure.
Charles Clarke noted the work undertaken with other councils, NATIS and Cabinet Office and questioned was this something that benefitted the council directly through grants or had this been consultancy work. Nick Coker stated the team had a very unique skill set in relation to the investigation of economic crime which was sought after to assist not only with the council’s investigations but offered their services elsewhere which in turn benefitted the council and the residents of Thurrock.
Councillor Rigby stated that during the pandemic there were fewer referrals and questioned whether the number of referrals had started to increase to which Nick Coker stated that things had started to return to normal with the number of referrals picking up and engagement with the council and that engagement between council officers and members of the public had also increased.
Councillor Rigby questioned whether there was any comparison with other boroughs on the number and type of fraudulent claims to which Nick Coker stated that across the national picture there had been parts of the country that had been more affected than Thurrock against similar schemes and business support grants. That fortunately Thurrock had been in a unique position with officers taking a lead on the investigation of such offences.
1. The Committee noted the performance of the Counter Fraud & Investigation team over the last year.
2. The Committee approved the Counter Fraud & Investigation strategy and work programme for 2022/23.