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Local authority benefit fraud investigation teams “under threat from DWP plans”

A district council has hit out at plans by the Department for Work and Pensions to establish a Single Fraud Investigation Service (SFIS).

The DWP is set to put a business case to the Treasury on establishing the service, which would investigate all benefit and tax credit fraud.

Craven District Council said the move would mean housing benefit and council tax benefit assessed and paid by local authorities would be investigated by SFIS in the Department’s offices.

The council warned that:

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  • Local authorities’ benefit fraud teams could cease to exist;
  • There would be a loss of local expertise;
  • There was scope for duplication as fraud involving council tax reduction would remain with councils;
  • The close local connection and personal contact – which meant that the authority received a significant number of informal investigation referrals from colleagues and other local sources – would be lost;
  • There would be a decrease in fraud detection.

Craven also argued that its prosecution of these cases had meant that prosecutors with specialised and detailed knowledge had presented these cases to court. 

“This will be lost under the proposed arrangements with this function transferred to the Crown Prosecution Service,” it warned. “As a national organisation the CPS does not always have the local knowledge important in understanding the impact of these cases.

“In addition, there can be significant delays in CPS cases and the CPS does not always prosecute the case in the appropriate local court, with the result that valuable local press coverage, which the council believes assists in preventing fraud, is lost.”

Craven, which has no DWP offices in its area, said its benefit investigation team had identified £160,000 in overpaid council benefits in the last year.

Its legal team had successfully prosecuted 11 people for benefit fraud, it added. In five of these cases, it worked closely with the DWP.

The authority said it was unclear whether fraud officers would be transferred to SFIS.

The council’s chief executive and fraud investigation officers have written to Julian Smith, MP for Skipton & Ripon, asking him to highlight the issue.

Craven said: “The council is concerned that if SFIS, led by DWP who have little knowledge of council benefits, is responsible for investigating potential housing benefits fraud, it will not be a priority.”

Cllr Richard Foster, Lead Member for Affordable Housing at Craven, said: "The law-abiding citizens of Craven cannot afford to lose the wealth of knowledge and experience of the successful investigation team. Without a Craven-based team, this could be an open invitation to fraudsters."

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