Councils told to embed data matching to make savings

Written by Rebecca Hill on 1 July 2016 in News

A data-sharing initiative across Scottish public bodies has found fraud and error costs worth almost £17 million since 2014.

Data sharing could lead to savings - Photo credit: Pexels

The National Fraud Initiative, which is carried out every two years by Audit Scotland, has generated a total of £110.6m in Scotland and £1.39 billion across the UK.

The report from the latest exercise, which is the fifth overall and involved 104 public bodies in Scotland, urged councils to take actions to embed the processes in their own systems.

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The NFI uses data matching to compare a range of information held on the public bodies’ systems to identify inconsistencies and potential fraudulent activity. These are then investigated and any potential action is taken.

This exercise used fewer data sets for matching – 585 compared with 599 in the 2012-13 exercise – but overall outcomes rose from £16m to £16.8m. This comprises £14.7m from this exercise and £2.1m from follow-up work on the previous exercise.

One of the areas that generated the best results was in matching the electoral role with council tax records, which would detect circumstances where someone is claiming a single person discount but does not live alone. This identified fraud and error costs of £5.6m.

Other successes were in matching blue badge and pension records to deceased persons’ records, generating costs of £2.4m and £4.6m, respectively, and in matching housing benefit claimants to employees and public sector occupational pension records, which generated £3m.

The NFI report said that it had thus far recovered almost 6,000 overpayments, worth £4.6m. This is up from the previous exercise, which recovered £4.5m of overpayments.

The report of the latest exercise said that most organisations take advantage of the opportunities provided by the NFI.

However, it said that “some could act more promptly and ensure that appropriate officers are in place who have sufficient time available to investigate matches, stop frauds and correct errors”.

Areas of concern identified by an audit of the process said that half of the bodies needed to improve internal audit involvement and monitoring of the NFI process, while a quarter needed to improve reporting of NFI progress to senior management.

However, it said that an audit of the process showed that 24% of bodies did not record their outcomes fully on the NFI web application and that many could improve the way they record their investigations.

The initiative’s report adds that a further benefit of the programme is the deterrent effect that regular data sharing exercises might have on people considering fraud.

The report also made a series of recommendations to local authorities. These were to embed regular use of data matching as part of their overall control arrangements to identify council tax fraud, ensure they have the capability to investigate non-housing benefit fraud and improve matching of pension schemes with death records.

The next NFI exercise will begin in July this year, when it will also assess which bodies should be involved. 

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