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Cheshire East paid out more than £160 million in Covid-related support – and £37,000 has been identified as going to fraudsters, writes Belinda Ryan.

Councils across the country fell victim to fraudulent claims related to the pandemic as they dealt with millions of pounds of government grants.

Cheshire East leader Sam Corcoran told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “I think the finance team at Cheshire East Council have done a fantastic job in distributing government grants where large amounts of money are often given to them at short notice to distribute to thousands of people.

“To be able to do that without facilitating fraud takes an awful lot of work and the amount of fraud that has happened is very small.

“They do pick up attempted frauds and stop them before they happen.”

Cheshire East says it also takes steps to warn residents about scams and fraudulent activities.

A council spokesperson said: “Any fraud against the council is a fraud against the residents and council tax payers of the borough. The council has a good record in terms of fraud prevention and recovery.”

Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, the focus of the council’s counter-fraud work has been on the distribution of the numerous grants provided to support businesses and individuals.

“This has taken the form of detailed pre and post-payment checks made on applications for the various funding streams and involved examination of supporting documents, open source research, spot checks and review of Companies House records,” said the spokesperson.

“In total, more than £160m was paid out by the council in pandemic-related support funds and, thanks to the diligent work of our officers and the pre-payment checks carried out, £37,000 was identified as paid against fraudulent applications.

“These cases were passed to the National Anti-Fraud Network for investigation and reported to central government.”

To prevent other fraudulent activities Cheshire East participates in the biennial National Fraud Initiative data matching exercise.

The spokesperson said: “This matches a number of data sets against other councils and public bodies.

“Each council then receives detailed information to help identify potential fraud and errors, which are then investigated.

“The latest exercise, which was undertaken in 2020/21, returned around 3,600 matches and identified fraudulent activity and errors totalling £15,490, which is being recovered.”

Cheshire East also regularly checks up on claims made for the council tax single person discount.

“Checks are undertaken every six months, with the latest taking place in January 2022,” said the spokesperson.

“Where it is identified that someone wasn’t entitled to a single person discount, the overpaid amount is added to their council tax bill, meaning no financial loss to the council in the long term.

“Any suspected housing benefit fraud is referred to the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Cheshire East said any resident who believes they may have been the victim of a scam or fraud should report this to Action Fraud at https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/

Anyone who suspects a fraud against the council can report this using the online concern form here.

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