A counter-fraud operation has identified nearly £19 million of potential savings to Scotland’s public sector – with almost £225,000 of benefits cheating in Aberdeen was found in one year.
The UK-wide National Fraud Initiative (NFI) found £18.6 million of fraud and error across government, councils, police and other public bodies.
The figure includes future losses prevented by the anti-fraud work and has been highlighted in a new report by Audit Scotland.
The NFI scheme, overseen by the UK Cabinet Office, uses data matching to track down fraud and over-payments – for example comparing council tax records to the latest electoral register or blue parking badges to deceased persons’ records.
A total of 113 Scottish public sector bodies took part in the 2016/17 initiative and, of the total, 34% of the potential savings related to pensions, almost a quarter was connected to council tax discounts, while 14% related to misuse of the blue badge disabled parking scheme.
Audit Scotland, which leads the exercise in Scotland, said that as at March public bodies were taking action to recover £4.8 million of over-payments.
Around 4,800 council tax discounts have been removed, 280 occupational pensions stopped or reduced and 4,505 blue badges stopped or flagged for future checks.
The report outlined how the number of housing benefit cases recorded with overpayments had fallen from 868 in 2014/15 to 710 in the 2016/17.
Benefits investigations by Glasgow City Council and Aberdeen City Council identified the highest levels in 2016/17, at £306,645 and £224,666 respectively.
Meanwhile, Moray Council’s so-called “tell us once” approach was highlighted in the report as an example of good practice in avoiding issues.
The process means that when a death is registered, the registrar informs the relevant council and government departments, allowing cancellation of blue badges on the database.
Aberdeen City Council introduced a similar approach for residential care homes, where each home was made responsible for notifying the council of a death of a resident.
It follows an issue an issue highlighted in 2014/15 when it emerged that some care homes were not notifying the authority quickly when residents died, resulting in payments continuing when they should have stopped.
Fiona Kordiak, director of audit services, said: “Systems underpinning public spending are complex and errors can happen.
“There are also some individuals who seek to exploit the systems and fraudulently obtain services to which they are not entitled.
“What these latest results demonstrate is the value of data matching to Scotland’s public finances at a time when budgets continue to be under pressure.”