Council works to claw back thousands of pounds in overpaid allowances

Financial errors: Council staff in Barnsley are recovering a six figure sum for cash paid out by mistake.
Financial errors: Council staff in Barnsley are recovering a six figure sum for cash paid out by mistake.
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More than £240,000 could have been lost by Barnsley Council in the last year as a result of fraud and mistakes with payments, councillors have been told.

Most of the cash has been recovered because it had gone to organisations providing regular services, so future payments were adjusted to make the sums match up, but in cases where payments were made to the public for housing benefit, council tax support and discounts applied for single persons’ council tax, officials are still having to work to claw back the money.

Details submitted to the council’s audit committee reveal the biggest potential loss was from duplicate payments to creditors, which totalled more than £133,000, though that money has been recovered by making smaller future payments, with 21 errors spotted.

Another £72,000 went out in fees to private care homes, to cover the cost of looking after residents who had previously died, without the local authority being informed, something council staff regard as an administrative error in the way care companies deal with their paperwork, though it happened on ten occasions.

In one case, more than £2,000 was paid to the ‘personal budget’ to pay for a resident’s care after they had died.

The rest of the cases could be more challenging for officials to resolve because they involve members of the public rather than organisations, with more than £19,000 found to have been paid out in housing benefit to nine recipients who should not have received the cash.

More than £10,000 was not collected from council tax bills due to people being allowed single person discounts, which reduce the bill by 25 per cent when there is only one adult living in the house. with another £2,100 going on Council Tax support which should not have been paid.

Councillors have been told: “Both the issues relating to private residential care homes and personal budgets arose where matches highlighted that a resident/personal budget recipient had died, unknown to the council.

“The delay in notification to BMBC appears to be due to the relevant care home informing their head office of the death who then advises the council that payment should cease.”

According to officials, errors with the duplicate payments had already been picked up before being highlighted by auditors.

The council has anti-fraud staff who work to both deter potential criminals and to detect offences when they do occur.

The report stated: “Despite strong preventative measures, there are inevitably a minority of dishonest people who will be intent on attempting fraud and corruption and finding new ways to evade preventative systems or indeed taking an opportunistic risk.

“When this happens it is essential that we are able to promptly detect instances of fraud and corruption that have occurred.

“The Council remains focused in its commitment to take all necessary action to investigate fraud and take appropriate sanctions.”

It is unclear whether any prosecutions have followed as a result of the incidents outlined to councillors.