By Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Esson
Kent County Council (KCC) revealed it lost £586,391 to ‘fraud and error’ since April.
KCC’s general counsel Ben Watts spoke of the “considerable and existential threat this could be to the organisation if not managed properly.”
In a report to the local authority’s Governance and Audit Committee it was also revealed: “an email hack of a senior officer saw an attempt to defraud KCC of £1.2m which was prevented.”
Of the £586k lost, £222,769 was due to a mandate fraud against KCC, which has since been recovered.
A Kent school was also hit by mandate fraud, defrauding it of £164,453, which is under investigation.
Mandate fraud is when fraudsters use deception to alter bank details, sometimes posing as legitimate recipients of regular payments, and take the money intended for elsewhere.
KCC is in the process of recovering £172,860, lost due to the council overpaying a social care provider when they were no longer providing services.
Another attempted hacking of a finance officer failed, but could have resulted in a school losing its monthly advance of £518,213.
Cloning of a KCC-issued purchase card also resulted in a loss of £1,028, and a further £450 was attempted on the same card.
Misuse of Blue Badges – parking permits for the disabled – is also a source of fraud, and many of the Blue Badges used to fraudulently park are reported stolen.
The report showed large disparities in the amount of reported Blue Badge fraud across local councils in Kent.
Ashford Borough Council reported the most incidents – with 27 reported from April to September.
Gravesham reported the second most, with 21 incidents, and Canterbury reported the third most – 17 incidents.
Other Kent local authorities reported significantly less incidents, with several reporting none at all.
James Flannery, KCC’s counter-fraud manager, said that reporting and enforcement of such fraud can be varied due to the fact that lower-tier local authorities are responsible for managing off-street parking themselves.
KCC has saved £593,133 by getting business rates from businesses previously not charged them, on council taxes received from properties which hadn’t paid, and from reclaiming debts from debtors who tried to escape paying.
The council heard that fraud awareness and anti-fraud training sessions have been held with school governors and council staff at KCC. Staff of district and borough councils in the county are also in regular contact and share information with KCC’s counter-fraud team.
Cllr Rosalind Binks (Cons), chairwoman of the governance and audit committee, suggested such sessions may not be enough.
She said “Awareness sessions across the various areas were carried out, and yet in April to September we still had attempts being made, so sessions on their own may not be enough, and I think there has to be a continual reminder because these are big sums of money.”