The Cabinet Office has produced the National Fraud Initiative Report 2018, the headline figure of which is that the National Fraud Initiative (NFI), the Cabinet Office’s data matching service, has enabled participating organisations to prevent and detect over £300 million UK fraud and error in the period April 2016 to March 2018, a rise from £222 million in 2014/15.
The NFI compares sets of data, such as the payroll of a company with benefit records, allowing fraudulent claims and payments to be identified. Between April 2016 and March 2018, the NFI worked with over 1,200 public and private sector organisations.
The report highlights 4 NFI products:
- National – Data is collected from organisations across the UK for national fraud detection batch matching. Matches are accessed through a secure web application.
- AppCheck – Fraud prevention tool that helps organisations to stop fraud at the point of application, thereby reducing administrative and future investigation costs.
- ReCheck – Flexible batch matching tool that allows an organisation to repeat national batch matching at a time to suit them.
- FraudHub – this enables groups of organisations to regularly screen more than one dataset with the aim of detecting errors in processing payments, or benefits and services.
Looking at the figures in a housing context for England (£275.3 million of the £300 million figure) the report shows:
- £5.5 million related to tenancy fraud, £25.5 million to waiting lists, and £1 million to right to buy (RTB – 4 cases);
- 58 social housing properties were recovered, a small increase from the 54 properties in 2014/15. The NFI use an estimate of £93,000 per property recovered based on average four year fraudulent tenancy – this includes temporary accommodation for genuine applicants; legal costs to recover property; re-let cost; and rent foregone during the void period between tenancies;
- 7601 false applications were removed from local authority allocation schemes during 2016/17 – over half of these applications were cancelled by one council. The NFI works on an estimate of £3,240 per case for future losses prevented as a result of removing an applicant from a list;
- The NFI estimate a saving of £65,000 per RTB application withdrawn based on average house prices and the minimum right to buy discount available (this has some regional variations such as with London it is £104,000 per application withdrawn to reflect the maximum value of RTB discount available for London properties);
- The Annual Fraud Indicator 2017 highlights that housing tenancy fraud costs local government £1.83 billion. This has increased from the £1.76 billion quoted in 2016;
- Whilst there are 400 local authority participants in the NFI, there are just 7 Housing Associations.
The report gives 2 examples of local authority use of NFI initiatives:
- Royal Borough of Greenwich – an NFI housing tenancy to housing tenancy match showed two matching tenancies between two London boroughs. Investigations in the Royal Borough of Greenwich showed their tenant had used false identity documents to gain a one bedroom flat in May 2013; claimed housing benefit; used the same documents to gain employment as a waste operative in the borough four years earlier, in October 2009 (he was no longer in that employment at the time of the investigation). The Royal Borough of Greenwich evicted the tenant from the property in February 2017 and he was prosecuted and sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on 4th October 2017 to 33 months imprisonment. In total the man had received in excess of £60,000 in employment and housing benefit payments.
- Portsmouth City Council – a housing tenants to housing benefit match identified a tenant in a property owned by Portsmouth City Council. The tenant had however been claiming housing benefit in excess of £150 per week for a different property in a nearby authority area since January 2016. The match revealed the tenant had let the property from Portsmouth City Council in February 2013, but investigations found the tenant’s partner had been subletting the Portsmouth property for up to two years. The council sought a prosecution in October 2017 and the property was successfully recovered.