More than 40 suspected fraud incidents at Redcar and Cleveland Council in space of 12 months

An organisation which carries out internal audits at Redcar and Cleveland Council received 41 referrals of suspected fraud in the last 12 months.

An annual report by Veritau said 20 investigations were completed as a result relating to social care fraud, misuse of disabled blue badges, debt evasion, abuse of small business rate relief and alleged covid-19 business grant fraud. More than £25,000 worth of funds fraudulently obtained by members of the public were identified for potential recovery by the council.

Staff continued to receive training to increase their awareness of fraud activity with information being provided in relation to cybercrime, whistleblowing and how to report fraud, it said.

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In his annual report covering the 2022/23 period, Max Thomas, the head of internal audit at Veritau and its chief executive, said an assessment of council arrangements in terms of governance, risk management and control in his view provided “reasonable assurance”.

Veritau carries out internal audits on behalf of Redcar and Cleveland Council and work to combat potential fraud.Veritau carries out internal audits on behalf of Redcar and Cleveland Council and work to combat potential fraud.
Veritau carries out internal audits on behalf of Redcar and Cleveland Council and work to combat potential fraud.

Last year Veritau highlighted members’ ward allowances as one area of concern where only “limited” assurance was provided, which it intended to review again.

A spokesman for the council previously said there was no question of any money being spent incorrectly by councillors, but there had been administrative issues surrounding the recording of information with procedures having been tightened

Recent audit work to have taken place – and in some instances still in progress – has covered the likes of home to school transport, the recruitment of foster carers, the use of agency staff and payroll.

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On payroll, an audit covered claims for mileage to check they were accurate and identified that sufficient detail was not always being provided to support claims with improved guidance subsequently being issued to managers and staff.

The report highlighted other areas due to be audited such as health and safety arrangements and the use of CCTV cameras – in particular compliance with data protection legislation which has been an issue at some other councils.

Redcar and Cleveland Council, which has been contacted for comment, updated its counter fraud strategy in September last year.

It included action points to raise awareness of fraud within children’s social care and update a number of council policies such as the anti-fraud policy, bribery and corruption policy, and a whistleblowing policy.

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One whistleblowing report from within the council was logged by Veritau in 2022/23 relating to unauthorised expenditure with an investigation into this concern said to be ongoing.

Veritau, whose name is taken from the Latin for ‘truth’, provides so-called assurance services for the public sector with City of York Council, North Yorkshire County Council, Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland Council all partners in it.

The cost of local Government fraud has been estimated at £2.2bn a year, money which could otherwise be spent on public services. Redcar and Cleveland Council has been approached for a comment.