'Unacceptably high' level of housing benefit fraud, leads to qualified opinion from auditor Kieran Donnelly

Levels of housing benefit fraud are 'unacceptably high', according to the Comptroller & Auditor General Kieran Donnelly.

Friday, 15th November 2019, 10:58 am
Housing benefit fraud 'unacceptably high'.
Housing benefit fraud 'unacceptably high'.

Mr. Donnelly has only given qualified approval to the Land & Property Services 2018-19 accounts as a result.

The total Housing Benefit administered by LPS on behalf of the Department of Finance to claimants who own their own home in 2018-19 was £38.1 million.

The levels of fraud and error, which are estimated by the Department for Communities Standards Assurance Unit, amounted to a total of £4.9 million (compared with £4.5 million in 2017-18), which represents 13.1 per cent of total Housing Benefit administered by LPS last year.

This total comprised of £1.6 million of customer fraud, £2.9 million of overpayments to claimants due to official or customer error, and £0.4 million of underpayments to claimants as a result of official error.

Mr Donnelly commented: “I recognise that over a number of years LPS has made considerable improvements to fraud and error rates, but the increase in both customer and official error in 2018 is concerning.

"The levels of fraud and error in LPS total Housing Benefit Expenditure continue to be unacceptable, and the qualification of my audit opinion reflects that.”

The Comptroller and Auditor General also reported on the level of outstanding ratepayer debt at the

year end and the amount written off in year. The debt outstanding at 31 March 2019 was £124.5

million compared to £125.8 million at 31 March 2018. The amount written off in 2018-19 was £15.9

million compared to £19.3 million in 2017-18.

Discussing the levels of ratepayer debt, Mr Donnelly said:

“LPS has made improvements through its debt management strategy but there is still £125 million

ratepayer debt outstanding which is not available for public use. LPS has pointed out this includes

late rate assessments and debt that is under a payment arrangement and the majority of the debt

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outstanding at year end is expected to be recovered. It is therefore important that all necessary steps

are taken to maximise recovery.”

Mr Donnelly’s report also notes that he has been informed by LPS of a recently discovered fraud

relating to the misappropriation of refunds due on customer accounts.

Mr Donnelly commented:

“LPS has commenced its own investigation to establish the full circumstances and the amount

involved. The PSNI has been informed. I will report on the outcome in due course.”

Land & Property Services Annual Report and Accounts 2018/19 available here: https://www.financeni.gov.uk/publications/lps-annual-reports-and-accounts