Fraudsters behind more than one in 10 applications for Covid grants
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
More than one in 10 Covid grant claims submitted to Swansea Council were fraudulent, figures have shown.
Applications for six different Covid support schemes have been listed in a report going before the council’s governance and audit committee next Tuesday.
They show that 357 out of 3,393 applications in 2020-21 – worth a total of £720,500 – were rejected as fraudulent.
Just under two-thirds of the applications were approved, while a quarter were rejected as erroneous.
The upshot was a saving to the taxpayer of £2.4 million, although some of the erroneous applicants were signposted to other support schemes which they were eligible for.
All councils in the UK were tasked with administering unprecedented amounts of financial support at speed as central Governments sought to keep the economy on life support last year and early this year.
Fraudsters targeted the system – including in Swansea – posing as well-known pizza outlets, pub chains and department stores to get their mitts on the money.
In some cases the fraudsters used the identities of company finance directors in the hope of persuading council teams to hand over grants.
The figures detailed in the report don’t cover the full spectrum of grants, loans and other Covid support which the council has administered over the past 15 months. The combined value of all these measures, which helped more than 4,000 Swansea business, is around £130 million.
Council leader Rob Stewart said officers would clamp down on fraud wherever it was detected.
“We were among the quickest at handing out funds to those who were eligible,” he said.
“But at the same time fraudsters were submitting grant claims in the hope they’d slip through the net because of the high volume of applications.
“Our counter-fraud team also detected a number of applications from businesses no longer trading, others claiming to occupy premises that they didn’t as well as those posing as business owners they weren’t.”
Fraud alerts were received from South Wales Police and the UK’s National Investigation Service, which tackles organised crime, bribery and corruption affecting the public sector.
Swansea Council’s counter-fraud team also dealt with its more run-of-the-mill cases, such as blue badge and council tax fraud, in 2020-21. Cases rose compared to the previous year, which the council has partly attributed to a new online reporting tool for the public.
Meanwhile, the number of council employee referrals, for things like theft and abuse of flexi-time, dropped to 23 from 34 the previous year.
The annual fraud report showed Swansea Council was not a “soft touch”, said Cllr Stewart.
“Fraud is something that happens in society in general and, like other organisations, councils are targets both by individuals and by more organised criminals.”