Anti-fraud investigations save council £11 million losses
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Local authority counter-fraud staff have prevented £11 million worth of losses in the last financial year, according to a new report.
Carmarthenshire County Council’s consumer and business affairs service received 2,113 investigation referrals in 2022-23. They carried out 12 successful prosecutions and issued six cautions, three more prosecutions and three more cautions than the previous year.
The figures were in a fraud report which came before the council’s governance and audit committee.
The estimated £11 million sum was the amount that would have been lost had perpetrators continued to offend for a year. This was more than double the £5.1 million figure in 2021-22.
Lay committee member Malcolm MacDonald said: “That’s quite a dramatic increase from the last year. That ought to be noted.”
The consumer and business affairs service is made up of four teams – trading standards, animal health, licensing and a financial investigation unit.
Fraud cases cited in the report included council tax-dodging by nine occupants of four unregistered properties, resulting in a court order requiring them to pay £4,742,38.
Another prosecution saw James Sibley, the director of building and landscaping company Sibley’s Solutions Ltd, Ammanford, pleading guilty at crown court to offences under the 2008 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
The offences related to five occasions where he agreed to carry out building or landscaping work, for which he received a total of £34,290.77. The council said the work was of “very poor quality” and that in some cases “very little or no work” was carried out.
Sibley was given a 16-week suspended prison sentence, ordered to do 100 hours unpaid work, and pay £12,000 compensation to be distributed between the five victims.
Another investigation looked into a report that a council employee had been falsely claiming travel expenses. Travel claims over a period of four years were reviewed, and at a disciplinary hearing the employee admitted making a number of incorrect claims.
The person was issued a final written warning, with the over-claimed expenses to be paid back to the authority.
Meanwhile, three money-laundering investigations have either been completed or are currently working their way through the court system.
Benefit fraud investigations are carried out by staff in the council’s revenues team. There were 227 benefit fraud referrals in 2022-23, most of which were passed on to the Department for Work and Pensions. Overall, £48,422.65 of housing benefit and council tax overpayments were identified.
The council’s specific fraud team only has two employees, including a new recruit. Cllr Kim Broom said the efforts of counter-fraud staff at the council deserved praise, given how “arduous and long” prosecutions were.
Helen Pugh, the council’s head of revenues and financial compliance, said: “No issue is too small to investigate.”
Lay committee chairman, David MacGregor, said he felt the council should “blow its whistle” about its counter-fraud work.
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