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Hundreds of town hall fraud investigations launched – and half involve Covid grants to private firms


By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter

Town hall chiefs have ordered more than 150 fraud investigations in the last five months – and half of them are linked to Covid grant applications.

And some of Southwark council’s own staff and former staff are being investigated for multiple cases of defrauding the authority.

The council opened 156 fraud investigations between April to August, though the report does not explain outcomes.  

More than half of the cases are linked to Covid-19 business and community grants.  

The council is looking into one alleged fraud case relating to one current employee – and six fraud cases linked to former staff, according to a council report.  

Southwark council’s internal audit and anti-fraud progress report says that the council is probing a total of 39 active cases. The report will go to committee on September 20.

The cases involve Covid-19, housing, planning, environment and leisure, finance, and children and adult services. 

The report states: “As we start to look at the new normal we will review the anti-fraud strategy and incorporate the fraud response protocol and the anti-fraud response plan to cover the period from October 2020 to March 2021.  

“Facilities management has recently agreed the use of certain rooms for witness and caution interviews which will allow us to pick up the cases which require interviews to obtain the relevant evidence to allow us to conclude our investigations, held up due to lockdown.  

“We will be inviting attendance for 18 Covid-19 related cases and seven corporate cases.  

“Following the recent internal audit on fraud protocols, 272 staff have been identified as having responsibility for a finance function – such as raising or approving a purchase order or an invoice at the council who require fraud awareness training around anti-tax evasion.” 

The council plans to train the staff in anti-tax evasion awareness, starting in November.  

Southwark council has been contacted for comment.  

The report adds: “In total six cases relate to former council employees and two cases relate to a current council employee.

“No further information in respect of these investigations can be given at this time.”

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