Council in crackdown on fraud in Southend

Nine people were cautioned for misusing Blue Badges for disabled drivers last year, and two badges were confiscated, as part of a city-wide fraud crackdown across Southend.

Southend Council’s counter fraud and investigation team saved taxpayers almost £693,000 while investigating 416 cases.

In the 12 months up to April 1, the department recovered £34,988 in fraudulent or incorrectly awarded grant funds, £11,420 in recouped small business rates relief, and recovered £6,970 in council tax discounts and exemptions.

As well as two blue badges being confiscated, the team helped to prevent £152,746 in fraudulent COVID-related grant applications being awarded, to recover £75,888 of fraudulent or incorrectly awarded COVID-related grant payments.

It is also helping with the recovery of eight social housing properties, saving the council £178,000 in future temporary accommodation costs.

One Right to Buy application was withdrawn following an investigation, saving the council £57,000 in right to buy discount.

The team has also had three successful prosecutions. One company was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £145 in costs for environmental offences, after parking vehicles for sale. Two people were prosecuted for altering a parking permits, resulting 12 month community orders and costs awarded to the council.

The team is currently investigating another 100 cases, including council tax and benefit fraud, business rate and grant frauds, and fraudulent right to buy applications.

A report to the council’s audit committee said: “This year’s total benefit equates to £138,558 per counter fraud and investigation officer and thus represents exceptional value for money. The benefit directly attributable to the team is 2.4 times its budget.

“Successes would not be possible without the dedication, skills and professionalism of its investigators and the credit for this lies largely with them. The team would also find it difficult to operate without the support, vigilance, willingness to work together, and expertise of many staff and teams across the council which we value and appreciate greatly.

“These people are the ‘front line’ in the council’s fight against fraud.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter