Latest Public Sector News

01.06.13

Using data to fight fraud

Source: Public Sector Executive May/June 2013

Data-matching is a vital tool in tackling fraud and error for local authorities. James Flannery, investigations manager at Gravesham Borough Council in Kent, explains how it has been used to uncover issues in its social housing stock.

A pilot project to use new data-matching technology to reduce fraud and error has had good results in Gravesham.

Fujitsu was looking for pilot sites to test new software and Gravesham decided to volunteer. Investigations manager James Flannery said: “We didn’t think fraud in our social housing was a major problem, but from the information coming out of the London boroughs that were detecting a lot of sub-letting and tenancy fraud, and with us being 20 minutes from London, we thought it would be a good idea to have a look at our housing stock to see whether there was any fraud or error within it. We’re not high-risk, but we’re not low-risk either, so we thought it was worth looking at.

“This was an opportunity to work with a private sector company in providing us with a robust way of checking our housing stock for fraud and error, and basically them working with us to target our resources effectively.”

The council provided its data to Fujitsu, which used its software – the precise details of which remain commercially confidential – plus further information from credit reference agencies to come up 450 data matches, of potential interest to the council.

This represented 7.75% of the 5,805 social tenancies managed by the authority.

The council’s investigation team and housing teams, through their experience with the National Fraud Initiative and their access to multiple databases, removed false positives, leaving a total of 76 cases to investigate further through phone calls and visits.

Of those, 25 turned out not to need further action; one property was found to be overcrowded; and 28 tenancies had their details changed to remove joint tenants who had left.

Another 16 tenancies were amended to mitigate the risk of succession fraud, and, most importantly for the council, six properties were repossessed due to the tenant having left or under-occupation.

The total ‘value’ of the tenancy fraud uncovered was around £108,000, Flannery said.

But he added: “We were primarily looking to recover the property rather than at criminal sanctions, because we didn’t have the legal resource to progress to prosecution. The advantage was that the investigator learned things off the housing officer, and vice versa.”

Because it was a pilot project, it had no additional cost to the council, beyond some officer time and resources already allocated for a tenancy audit. Flannery said: “All I needed to do was find an investigator within my team to assist the housing officers in doing more robust tenancy audits because the investigators have got the skills for the witness statements and to do criminal investigations.

“It was a one-off project, but through the reporting of the results through to our committees and elected members, they were keen to see the exercise happen every couple of years to ensure that our housing stock is well-maintained. There is a requirement for the council to do tenancy audits on the housing stock, and this was a good way of providing targeted tenancy audits in order to confirm that the circumstances were correct. When we come to do it again, next year, we’ll look at doing it with Fujitsu but will be putting it out to tender.”

Obviously data-matching itself is well-used across most councils and by Government departments and agencies, and it is no different at Gravesham. Flannery called it a “must-tool”. He said: “We are looking at internal data-matching. We’ve got the National Fraud Initiative, which matches single person discount against electoral roll, as well as benefit data, taxi licensing, and so on. The council holds a lot of information, and we’re looking at how we can use that data to prevent fraud from happening, first and foremost, but also to detect it as well. It is the most cost-effective way of detecting fraud and error.”

Ian Hall, lead practitioner for local government at Fujitsu UK & Ireland, said: “Ever-increasing pressure on social housing stock in the UK means that ensuring properties are used legitimately and efficiently are key priorities for housing providers.

“As such, Fujitsu is pleased to be working successfully with Gravesham Borough Council to help it tackle one of the biggest issues facing local authorities today – social housing fraud.

“Our technology in this area has been proven to deliver dramatic results in a very short period in both local and central government.

“We look forward to being able to help more local authorities realise the benefits of fraud detection and prevention.”

Examples of tenancy fraud

• Illegal subletting, where the tenant has left but makes a profit (or covers the rent) from another person living there
• Key selling, where the tenant has vacated and sold the access to another person who pays the bills
• Abandonment, where the tenant leaves without surrendering the tenancy
• Succession fraud, where someone claims to have lived at the property for the required period to succeed a tenancy when they have actually been living elsewhere
• False representation, where someone lies to get a tenancy

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