Magazine article Public Finance

Watchdog Calls for Zero-Tolerance of Council Tax and Benefit Cheats

Magazine article Public Finance

Watchdog Calls for Zero-Tolerance of Council Tax and Benefit Cheats

Article excerpt

Councils are losing hundreds of millions of pounds a year from tax and benefit fraud, the Audit Commission has warned.

The local government regulator has recommended councils develop a 'zero-tolerance' culture to cheats.

In Protecting the public purse, published on September 15, the watchdog estimated that councils were losing £90m a year on fraudulent claims for single person council tax discount alone.

Derek Elliott, the commission's head of counter-fraud practice, said 35% of the 21.8 million taxable homes in England were registered for the single person discount. Elliott conservatively estimated that 4% of claims were false.

'That is straight out of the pocket of honest taxpayers,' he told Public Finance. He called on authorities to pay more attention to fraud, adding that councils should be more consistent with prosecutions. 'There need to be deterrents/ he said.

The commission found dishonest applications for council housing and illegal subletting had prevented 50,000 legitimate claimants from being housed.

Elliott said increased partnership working could have increased councils' vulnerability to housing fraud. …

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