1. Purpose of the policy
1 - The council, in carrying out its statutory local government functions undertakes the administration of:
- Council Tax
- The Council Tax Reduction Scheme (also known as Council Tax Support) from 1April 2013
- Housing Benefit
- Council Tax Benefit, up to 31March 2013
2 - We are committed to a proactive approach in preventing and reducing the level of Housing Benefit, Council Tax and Local Council Tax Support fraud and has a duty to protect the public funds it administers from abuse. It is aware of the risks within the system for fraud, error or other irregularity. In carrying out this duty, the authority may use legally obtained information provided for the purpose of the prevention and detection of fraud. It may also share the information with other bodies administering public funds solely for these purposes, where a legal gateway exists.
3 - Fraud occurs because people for various reasons will not be truthful about their circumstances, or deliberately fail to tell us about a relevant change.
4 - The aim of this policy is to prevent criminal offences occurring, by making it clear to customers that they have a responsibility to provide accurate and timely information about their circumstances; to punish wrongdoing and to deter offending.
5 - Part of the our function is the prevention and detection of fraud and investigating the delay in customers advising us of a change in circumstances in respect of their entitlement to a Council Tax discount or exemption, Council Tax Support applications or Housing Benefit claims.
6 - Until 1 April 2013 we administered the national Council Tax Benefit scheme on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, and this policy also includes how any fraudulent or negligent activity in relation to these claims will be dealt with.
7 - This policy is intended to provide clear guidance on the options available to deal with those who either:
- through an intentional act or omission commit Council Tax, Council Tax Support, Council Tax Benefit or Housing Benefit fraud; or
- negligently make incorrect statements, or without reasonable excuse fail to give a prompt notification of a relevant change of circumstances affecting their entitlement to a Council Tax discount, exemption or reduction, or their Council Tax Benefit and/or Housing Benefit entitlement, and how and when these options should be used.
8 - Time scales and outcomes for customers
9 - Customers who receive a Council Tax discount or exemption or a Council Tax Reduction (known as Council Tax Support) are responsible for advising the Revenues and Benefits Service within 21 days of a change in circumstances occurring, which affects their entitlement to this reduction. This time scale is different to that for Housing Benefit, and in implementing this policy we will extend this time limit to align with the one calendar month used in Housing Benefit.
10 - If a customer is not receiving a Council Tax discount or exemption and becomes entitled to one, they are responsible for advising the revenues and benefits service within 21 days and to make an application for this entitlement within this time period.
11- If a customer receives Housing Benefit (or Council Tax Benefit) they are responsible for advising the Revenues and Benefits Service within one calendar month of a change in circumstances occurring which affects their entitlement to Housing Benefit (or Council Tax Benefit) entitlement.
12 - If a customer does not comply with these time scales it will be appropriate to determine the reason for failure to comply and, in the case of a Council Tax Support application or Council Tax Benefit and/or Housing Benefit claim, whether this was a negligent or fraudulent act. The outcome of this will determine what action is appropriate in each individual case.
13 - Time scales and outcomes for the Revenues and Benefits Service
14 - In all cases of alleged fraud the Council’s investigation officers will endeavour as quickly and effectively as possible to undertake their investigation in accordance with all statutory regulations and procedural guidance.
15 - In cases of Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit fraud East Devon District Council will work jointly with the Department for Work and Pensions Fraud Investigation Service (FIS), where appropriate undertaking joint investigations and joint prosecutions..
16 - This policy will serve as a policy statement, agreed by Members and as an operational guide for officers. It is intended to ensure that offences are dealt with in a consistent, reasonable and fair way, in line with best practice. It also supports the Council’s Anti-Fraud, Theft and Corruption Policy and will be reviewed regularly to take account of any legislative changes and also to provide assurance that it is being followed correctly.