Councils failing to recoup fraud money

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JUST one of South Yorkshire’s four councils has used tough anti-fraud powers to claw back money for the taxpayer from benefit cheats – despite being urged to do so by the Government.

Only nine of 21 councils across Yorkshire and the Humber have used Proceeds of Crime legislation in the past five years to force benefit cheats to hand back money they collected fraudulently from the taxpayer.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has told the country’s increasingly cash-strapped councils they should be using the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act to confiscate every penny possible from benefit cheats, in order to boost town hall coffers.

Rotherham is the only council in South Yorkshire to have used the powers in the last five years.

However, it stopped doing so after cutting back its financial investigation team in 2009.

A Rotherham Council spokeswoman said: “Unfortunately, the highly-trained resource did not justify the results, which were not as successful as anticipated.”

The council did not reveal how much money it had recouped.

Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster said they have not made use of the Proceeds of Crime Act at all during the last five years.

Baroness Joan Hanham, local government and communities minister, said: “Fraud costs this country more than £73 billion a year – more than £2bn of which is lost to local government.

“This is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.

“It is essential that councils do everything that they possibly can to prevent fraud, recover money and pursue fraudsters.”