Fraud squad is to be reduced
Luton Borough Council’s executive committee has agreed to cut the Town Hall’s benefit fraud team in a bid to save money – despite the service saving the public purse more than £850,000 last year.
The fraud team will lose two full-time members of staff in a restructuring move that will see the council save £20,000 this year and £70,000 to £85,000 in a full financial year.
Instead of an investigation manager, a senior investigations officer and three investigations officers, the new team will comprise a principal investigations officer and two investigations officers.
The move means that the council will have cut £400,000 from financial services this year.
Last year, the team’s work brought about 58 successful prosecutions of fraudsters resulting in six jail terms, nine suspended sentences, 11 fines, 26 community orders and six conditional discharges.
Although the team saved £856,858.13 in fraudulently claimed benefits in 2011/12, that money is passed onto central government. Central government reimburses the council for benefits paid out but if a case is identified as fraudulent, the government reduce that reimbursement to 40 per cent, leaving the authority to pursue the individual to get the remainder of that money back. Luton Borough Council said that the changes will not mean a relaxation on benefit fraud however.
A spokesman said yesterday: “The council is maintaining a proactive fraud team which is comparable in size to that of Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire. The focus on prosecuting fraudsters and publicising those prosecutions will remain, and the council is appreciative of the continuing press coverage of those prosecutions.
“The reductions in Government funding mean that the council has got to look for savings in every area of its services, and fraud investigation is not immune from this. But the key message to those thinking about committing fraud is that we shall pursue you, and the message to anyone who suspects fraud is that we want to hear from you, and will follow up your concerns.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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