Reported fraud levels across Whitehall have more than doubled to an annual £73.6m according to new data published by the Cabinet Office.
The 2015-16 figure, contained in the latest Cross Government Fraud Landscape Annual Report is a significant hike on the £29.7m reported for the previous year. The totals exclude tax- and benefits-related fraud involving the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs, which are subject to a different reporting regime.
At the same time, the report said the amount of fraud that government was preventing has also increased, from £27.5m in 2014-15 to £33m in 2015-16.
The Cabinet Office document said the latest figure was evidence of a more focused approach to reporting and tackling fraud, shaped by a National Audit Office report last year that suggested there was a “large disparity” between reported fraud and error levels and estimated levels.
It said that while it was possible that fraud was becoming more prevalent in all sectors, officials believed the reasons for the increase in detected and prevented fraud was an improvement in the quality and comprehensiveness of reporting and a Cabinet Office-led drive to establish improved methodologies for measuring and preventing fraud.
Constitution minister Chris Skidmore said that on the basis that the government believed there was “a lot more fraud out there to find than is currently being reported”, the report’s headline hike in fraud levels was a positive development.
“Attempts at fraud will happen and government sees the identification of these problems as a great success,” he said.
“It is only through identifying and understanding fraud that we can take effective action against it. This rise has been due to the hard work of public sector workers and the co-ordinated drive from the Cabinet Office.”
The report said that all departments and arm’s length bodies with annual spending of more than £100m returned fraud, error, and prevented-fraud figures as part of their Consolidated Data Return figures.
According to a table in the report, the Ministry of Justice had the highest level of total detected fraud and error in 2015-16, recording a figure of £28.79m. Of that figure £24.44m was described as “detected fraud”.
The second-highest level was reported at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which gave a figure of £17.64m for detected fraud and error, of which £17.38m was classified as “detected fraud”.
The Treasury reported a detected-fraud-and-error figure of £220,000, none of which was “detected fraud”. All departments’ totals incorporated figures from their ALBs.
In the foreword to the report, civil service chief executive John Manzoni said he was proud of the proactive and transparent approach Whitehall was taking towards fraud.
“Fraud can feel like something we should be cautious talking about,” he said.
“However, I would encourage all organisations to be confident when talking about fraud. We should not see fraudsters targeting the public sector as our failing – everyone knows fraud exists.
“Public confidence comes in recognising that, admitting it and being open about measuring, detecting and tackling it.”
An update on the creation of a dedicated counter-fraud profession within the civil service said a skills committee was researching existing training provision within the public and private sectors and working with partner organisations to map standards agreed by the Counter Fraud Professionals Board with existing qualifications.
The board contains counter-fraud specialists from across the public sector, with representation from DWP, the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, HMRC and the Department of Health, as well as the National Crime Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office, and the Government Internal Audit Agency.
The MoJ said its 2015 figures included a "significant amount of unsubstantiated claims" submitted to the Legal Aid Agency by one firm of solicitors and that the case was currently the subject of an ongoing police investigation. It said the LAA had reviewed the matter and revised procedures to prevent a similar incident happening in future."
Note: This article was updated on September 11 to include the MoJ response about its fraud figures, which we received after the story was originally published