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Cheat crackdowns leads to £88k saving for Wigan Council

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

Counter-fraud action in Wigan - sparked off by housing benefit and council tax misdemeanours - has resulted in £88,000 being recouped for the public purse.

Council officials have used a wide-ranging data-matching exercise to weed out fraud and payment errors over the past 12 months in the borough.

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Under the operation, benefit files and other records are checked against each other to confirm whether claimants are entitled to all the payouts they receive. The work has also resulted in £11,000 in ongoing savings.

Another four internal fraud cases, said to involve abuse of position and other conduct issues, have been identified by the audit team, according to an annual report.

Paul McKevitt, the council’s deputy chief executive, said: “Tackling fraud is of paramount importance to the council as defrauding taxpayers is a serious offence and we want to protect the hard earned money of our residents.

“This work is one of the key roles of the team and we will not hesitate to take action against anyone falling short of our strict, clear guidelines.”

Council sources say the authority’s counter-fraud team has “investigations expertise”, which is not always available to other town halls.

The borough’s audit committee has been told that the total has been achieved despite a shortfall in manpower over the last year, due to a number of retirements and staff transfers.

Other departments have also made calls on the team’s resources, through various grant validation requests and an “increasing number” of investigation referrals.

But councillors have heard that, as of the start of this year, all vacant posts had been filled.

Counter-fraud officials have also conducted 17 schools visits, and compiled 25 related reports, some of which are said to relate to 2016-17.

The Wigan Post reported earlier this year how three cases of financial irregularities had been discovered by audit experts.

Councillors heard that a member of school at an unnamed establishment had been given a two-year suspended prison sentence and 150 hours community service after fraud was proven.

Another school business manager was sacked for gross misconduct, after an investigation at a primary school, and a dinner lady was given a suspended prison sentence in 2016 after being caught stealing canteen takings at Rose Bridge Academy.