Scottish public sector saves £19m in fraud and waste by sharing data

The cost-saving drive linked up databases and records. Picture: John Devlin
The cost-saving drive linked up databases and records. Picture: John Devlin
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A crackdown on public sector waste and fraud across Scotland has made almost £19 million of savings from withdrawing blue parking badges, removing council tax discounts and cancelling pensions being paid to people who have died.

The cost-saving drive linked up databases and records held by UK and Scottish public sector departments and agencies to uncover more than 10,000 errors and cases of fraud in 2016-17.

Officials used payroll lists, death records and the electoral roll to ensure the right payments are being made, and are stopped when a recipient dies.

Audit Scotland reported that the latest round of the National Fraud Initiative will save the public sector a total of £18.6m. The figure includes future losses prevented by the anti-fraud work.

A total of 113 Scottish public sector bodies took part in the sixth bi-annual savings drive, including the Scottish Government and other central government bodies, all 32 of Scotland’s councils, NHS bodies, pension administering bodies, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Police Scotland and colleges.

Of the money being saved, 34 per cent relates to pensions, almost a quarter was connected to council tax discounts, while 14 per cent related to misuse of the blue badge disabled parking scheme.

In one case, immigration checks resulted in a public sector employee being dismissed because they never returned from annual leave and did not have permission to live or work in the UK.

Two people were also removed from the list of NHS bank staff after they were shown to not have permission to work in the UK.

Audit Scotland, which leads the exercise in Scotland, noted that some public sector agencies “could act more promptly and ensure that sufficient staff are in place to investigate matches, prevent frauds and correct errors”.

Fiona Kordiak, director of audit services, said: “Systems underpinning public spending are complex and errors can happen.

“There are also some individuals who seek to exploit the systems and fraudulently obtain services to which they are not entitled.

“What these latest results demonstrate is the value of data matching to Scotland’s public finances at a time when budgets continue to be under pressure.”

Since 2006-7, the initiative has now saved a total of £129.2m. Across the UK, the a total of £1.69 billion has been saved over the past decade.

The latest crackdown has led to £4.8m of overpayments being recovered, 4,802 council tax discounts being reduced or removed, 280 occupational pensions being stopped or reduced, 4,505 blue badges stopped or flagged up for future checks and 710 housing benefit payments stopped or reduced. In addition, using immigration data, five students were found to be ineligible for financial support costing the taxpayer £100,000.

This year’s effort identified greater numbers of pensioners whose deaths had not been reported to relevant authorities, and more cases of incorrectly applied council tax discounts than two years ago.

But the number of cases of overpayment of housing and other benefit has fallen.

Different organisations took part in the Fraud Initiative in different ways. For example, using payroll data, the NHS pension scheme identified pensioners who re-entered employment, reducing overpayments.

In September, Holyrood’s public audit committee said greater awareness was needed in the the public sector of the benefit of engaging counter-fraud initiatives, and called for all public agencies and departments to take part. year.