Friday, 25 November 2011

Benefit Fraud - Because You're Worth It

I've occasionally made the odd comment about NCC's record on pursuing benefit fraud which hasn't been super complementary. No doubt there are people within certain circles who think that means that I'm against any form of sanction against benefit fraudsters and thing there should be a free-for-all.

Not true. I accept and in many cases positively encourage the proportionate pursuit and prosecution of people who defraud the benefits system. The key word there is 'proportionate'. I also strongly object to constant government sponsored propaganda on the subject which simply serves to demonise benefit claimants and put people off making legitimate claims. It is also an outrage that nothing like the same effort is made against those who defraud the tax system.

Another issue to consider is that anti-fraud action does have a cost and it should justify itself in value for money terms like anything else. Well, I've just stumbled across a bit of information which makes me wonder whether NCC manages to do that.

In 2009 I wrote about the fact that NCC boasted in a press release that it had reclaimed around £300k from benefit fraud. presumably it will have increased since then but it's likely to be in the same ballpark. At the time this amounted to 0.24% of total benefit expenditure, about 10% of comparable rates of recovery nationally.

Here's the new bit. In an aside in a report to the Audit Committee it is said that the benefit fraud team has 10 officers, so that gives us a vague idea of the cost of the council's expenditure on anti-fraud measures. I say vague because we don't know if those 10 officers comprise the entire team including admin and management/team leaders but let's presume it does. At a very conservative estimate I reckon a team that size is going to cost approx £300k in employee costs alone. The officers concerned will be relatively senior because they must have 'authorised officer' status (see s.109A of the SSAA 1992) allowing them to investigate people, including getting info from banks, utility companies and stuff (you did know they can do that when investigating you for fraud didn't you?). You will presumably have significant travel expenses because fraud inspectors spend a lot of time sitting outside people's houses watching for illicit visitors. And of course, if a prosecution does occur this will mean shedloads more money spent on legal services.

So on this basis I think we are in a fairly strong position to question whether NCC is getting value for money from it's anti fraud measures.

No comments: