The Audit Commission states today that the biggest increase in fraud detection by the National Fraud Initiative (NFI) for the year 2008/09 was in claims for single person discount (SPD), `the 25 per cent discount on council tax available to adults who do not live with another adult who counts for council tax purposes'.
The NFI helped to detect over £62m in wrongly claimed or paid discounts for 2008/09, almost five times as much as the £13m total reported in 2006/07. The report uses Salford City Council as a case study, where the Council expects to raise an extra £1million in council tax as a result of such detection.
The NFI, the report states, is "a sophisticated data matching exercise" which compares information from 1,300 organisations including local authorities, the police, the NHS and nearly 100 private companies. But has it missed Hazel Blears?
Last year the Salford Star questioned the Salford MP's claim for 25% single person discount on council tax for her second home in London for 2008/09, despite being clearly married to Michael Halsall. In the years 2006/08, and before it became public knowledge, Hazel was claiming return rail trips to London for her husband on Parliamentary expenses. There's no receipts at all in the public domain for Hazel Blears' council tax for those years so we don't know if she was claiming single person discount or not. But expense claims of £93 per month for council tax gives a similar figure to the receipted years which suggests that she was.
Hazel's lavish bedding expense claims for furnishing her second home would also seem to suggest that she wasn't living there alone.
No other married Salford MP was claiming the 25% single person discount during 2008/09. Barbara Keeley claimed a 10% `second home discount', while Ian Stewart didn't claim at all for council tax.
As far as we know, the 25% discount claim was never investigated, and no statement was ever issued by Hazel Blears justifying such a claim. Neither did anything come of the Hazel Must Go! report to Scotland Yard over unreceipted cleaning expenses claims made by Hazel Blears.
Until the authorities stop ignoring public concerns over what politicians do with the public purse, it will always seem like it's one law for us and another law for them.
'We simply can't afford to ignore losses to the public purse, especially from fraud" says Michael O'Higgins, the Chairman of the Audit Commission "Those who steal benefits, pensions, jobs and homes ought to know the NFI is on their trail, and others who fancy trying their luck should realise they will be caught."
Photo by Albert Spiby