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

Housing benefit fraud 'unacceptably high'.
Housing benefit fraud 'unacceptably high'.

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

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.”

A Department of Finance spokesperson said: “The Comptroller and Auditor General recognises within his report that Land & Property Services have made considerable improvements.

"In 2018/19, Land & Property Services collected over £1.3bn of rates revenues – the highest level of rates income to date, the level of rate debt in Northern Ireland is now at an 11 year low and as highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General the majority of the £125million is expected to be recovered as this figure includes late rate assessments and debt that is currently committed to through payment arrangements.”