Council fraud probe shock

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AN employee at Doncaster Council was investigated for using their position within the organisation to achieve personal gain - one of a thousand such fraud investigations carried out by the authority last year.

Figures from the authority show almost 200 people faced action from the council as a result of the investigations it carried out last year, many relating to housing or council tax benefit claims.

The list of suspected frauds probed included:

- Inappropriate use of computer facilities and works time

- Fraud by abuse of position of trust for personal gain

- Fraudulent use and theft of monies from residents in a care home

- Loss of money from trading establishments.

No details have been made available of the abuse of office case. But the investigations are known to have included Elizabeth Penno, of Mansfield Crescent, Skellow, who was jailed for eight months at Doncaster Crown Court for fraud after taking money from residents whose cash she was charged with looking after at Amersall Grange home in Scawthorpe.

The 55-year-old was responsible for managing the bank accounts of residents with physical and learning difficulties. She eventually paid all the money back.

The report also reveals investigations into allegations of the theft of stocks from a school’s kitchen - a matter which was subsequently referred to the police.

A spokesman for the council said: “Doncaster Council employs over 13,000 people and has a yearly revenue spend of over £750 million and capital spend of over £80 million.

“The council paid over £106 million to housing and council tax benefits claimants during the year.

“Like any organisation of this size, the council can be vulnerable to fraud and corruption, both from within and outside the organisation. The Council aims to minimise its risk of loss due to fraud and corruption, recognising that any loss incurred may be borne by the honest majority.

“Any instances of fraud, corruption and other dishonesty endanger the achievement of the council’s policies and objectives as they divert its limited resources from the provision of services to the people of Doncaster. They also undermine the council’s reputation and threaten its financial standing. Consequently the council is determined to eliminate fraud and corruption.

“Doncaster Council is determined to demonstrate that it will not tolerate fraud, corruption or abuse of position for personal gain, wherever it may be found, in any area of council activity.”

A report which went before the borough’s audit committee revealed the council had identified and was recovering £2.83 million in overpayments of housing and council tax benefits made as a result of fraud or error.

The largest chunk of the overpayments was £1.83m in housing benefits, which is being recovered through adjusting benefits paid, billing former claimants and, where appropriate, legal action.

Another £993,000 was overpaid in council tax benefits, which has been recharged.

During the year there were 1,345 potential fraud cases referred tot he authority, who investigated 1,000. The service obtained 38 successful prosecutions for housing and council tax benefit fraud and issued 144 formal cautions and administrative penalties.