Stratford-on-Avon District Council’s fraud investigation team is analysing Public SectorMapping Agreement (PSMA) data from Ordnance Survey, in order to reduce or avoid costly and time-consuming site visits.
Like many local authorities across the country, fraud investigation staff at Stratford-on-Avon District Council are trying to cope with an increase in workload with reduced resources. Fraud against local authorities is increasing: council tax fraud alone now costs local authorities £131 million a year – an increase of 32% from the figures for 2011 – and research has shown that where one form of fraud is being carried out, the potential for other fraudulent activity is high. Local authority officers need to recover council tax and housing benefit overpayments, reduce fraudulent claims and protect public money.
Ordnance Survey mapping, which is provided to all English and Welsh local authorities under the PSMA, is used by officers at Stratford-on-Avon District Council to ‘oversee’ individual property locations within estates, towns and villages as a time-saving tool. In a largely-rural district, precise property location has been assisting the council’s visiting teams, planning and other users. Desktop mapping and printed maps are produced for individual properties to provide the investigators with a level of geographic context that would not be otherwise possible. Decisions are made quickly and cost-effectively in the office, for example, is the property suitable for surveillance operations? On average the team handles six such investigations every week: using the mapping for this type of analysis takes five minutes. Driving to make site visits across predominately rural Warwickshire would take up to an hour on each occasion and might alert fraudsters to the council’s investigations. Making the best use of officer time is paramount in the current environment, and using available mapping makes a contribution to efficiency – avoiding wasteful use of time, resources, energy and expenses.
- Desktop analysis of mapping, as opposed to site visits saves almost a day’s work each week.
- An assessment, regarding whether surveillance is possible at a particular property, can be made in the office and lessens the risk of staff being compromised during site investigations.
- Reduced fuel costs and emissions help meet the authority’s green targets.