Sunday, 23 February 2014

Housing Benefit Fraud

I've taken the piss out of NCC's anti-benefit fraud measures before but with new figures available it's time to have another go.

Again, the report before the Audit Committee is the source of our interest here. On page 8 we are told that, during 2012/3, NCC detected 178 Housing/Council Tax benefit fraud, worth a total of £586,490. Even without any help from a responsible adult, I have worked out that is an average of £3295 per case.

The Midlands and East of England average is 332 cases, totaling £698,296, an average of £2103 per case.

I don't think we can make too much of the lower than average number of cases, that average is clearly elevated by one LA (Birmingham?) with 3500 or so cases. But NCC's higher value per case could be said to imply that frauds are not caught as early, which is not a good thing in fraud detection circles. There are probably other potential explanations as well.

But hello, what have we here? (word document) It's a Freedom of Info request asking about how much NCC spends on anti benefit fraud activities. It says that, in 2012/3 NCC spent £586,000 on such work, the money going on

...cost of the fraud staff in wages and then a percentage of all other costs based on fraud staff as a percentage of total benefits staff. Other costs include such things as IT, accommodation, central charges etc.

That's pretty clear, the question was unambiguous and the explanation of the costs makes it plain that the cost of the activity hasn't been confused with, say the amount of fraud detected...

Because the two figures are rather similar aren't they? It seems an extraordinary coincidence that, for a spend of £560,000 anti-fraud activity you detect fraud worth a total of £560,490.

Unless of course you've been a bit lazy and, rather than come up with a system to estimate the worth of each fraud case you catch and collating the results annually, you simply record as the 'cost' of detected fraud as how much how much was spent on the wages, IT and paperclips of your crack fraud detecting team. And in the FoI response linked, they DID say they didn't have an estimate of the value of fraud committed.

If it wasn't for the fact that NCC's housing benefit service has a long track record of pisspoor management information systems (largely due to having pisspoor management) I would find this explanation impossible to believe.

The alternative of course is that NCC's benefits fraud team saves the council the grand total of less than £500/year. Before anybody says that any saving is worthwhile you must remember that many people are investigated for fraud and found to have done nothing wrong. It is always a stressful, sometimes terrifying experience. I sincerely hope it is the 'crap management information' explanation that turns out to be correct because a saving of £490 is not worth a single person being wrongly accused and investigated.

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