Argyll and Bute: Lost income recovery

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Thousands of pounds in lost income is being recovered by Argyll and Bute Council chiefs investigating fraudulent grant applications and council tax exemptions.

A report has revealed that a total of 38 referrals to the authority’s counter fraud team (CFT) were made in the first three months of the 2021/22 financial year.

That figure is already more than the 34 received by the officers in charge of the project between September 2020, when the pilot scheme began, and March 2021.

Details are also given in the report of some examples of rebilling of council tax carried out by the CFT, as well as the refusal of a £6,000 business support grant.

Specific details identifying the subjects of referrals and their location are kept confidential.

The document will go before members of the council’s audit and scrutiny committee today September 14.

A table listing examples of the CFT’s work details how two retired health professionals – a doctor and a dentist – continued to claim job-related dwelling exemption on council tax even though they were no longer working.

The two were rebilled a total of nearly £4,000, which has been paid in full.

An application for a business support grant of £6,000 was also found to be fraudulent, with the CFT becoming involved when the rates team asked for advice. The grant was refused.

Other matters involving empty properties and removals of exemption are also listed, with recoveries in progress.

Laurence Slavin, the council’s interim head of financial services, said in the report: ‘A large element of the work of the CFT focuses on maximizing the council’s revenue streams by reducing the amount of benefit fraud (deliberate and ‘accidental’).

‘The primary way this is achieved is through being proactive and performing reviews of specific categories of benefits where cumulative knowledge and experience indicates a higher chance of a successful outcome, due to them being areas where either fraud or out of date information may be leading to the council not recognising the appropriate level of revenue.

‘Some examples are single person discounts, student exemptions, second homes, long term empty properties, and bi-annual reviews for penalty charges and reviews of residential properties used as places of employment.’

In relation to reactive work by the CFT, Mr Slavin added: ‘The CFT continues to receive referrals of alleged council tax fraud which have resulted in comprehensive investigatory work.

‘Through the investigations, most allegations are not supported by evidence.

‘However, we welcome referrals as it continues to make us accountable to our constituents, and elected members, and also helps raise the profile of the team.’