A national anti-fraud initiative has been investigating council workers after staff were caught “moonlighting” while working from home.
Under the practice, a worker obtains more than one salary while putting in half the hours.
The NFI, which is operated by the Cabinet Office, uses data-matching to detect and prevent fraud at large. The datasets, accessible by the NFI, include public sector payroll, council tax, and local authority pension payments among other information.
After reports of multiple-contract working emerged in several local authorities, the NFI assessed the scale of the issue. Last year, its work delivered savings of £171 million for taxpayers, according to the Cabinet Office.
Councils in Wakefield, Enfield, and Kensington and Chelsea claimed to have staff lying about the number of jobs they hold.
A report by Kensington and Chelsea Council, published in June, described “moonlighting” as a “new and emerging fraud type.”
According to local authorities, the “moonlighting” practice has been exacerbated by hybrid working, a form of flexible working where employees spend some of their time working remotely.
Working remotely increased substantially when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were in place. As they were lifted, the number of remote and hybrid workers dropped gradually but remains higher than pre-pandemic levels.
“The pandemic created this risk when it normalised working from home and hybrid working. While this increases flexibility, it also creates new types of risks when during a cost of living crisis, a second income becomes very alluring,” the Kensington and Chelsea Council report said.
It recorded several cases of employees “fraudulently working simultaneously (full-time) for other organisations.”
Allegations of moonlighting were made in December 2021 against three Wakefield Council employees. Five Enfield Council workers undertook undeclared secondary employment in 2022–23.
The council then investigates any cases where conflicts of interest may take place.
Common CrimeSimilar initiatives in the past have uncovered fraud in local councils. In 2012, the NFI targeted fraud linked to undeclared earnings and property ownership. The pilot delivered £14.9 million in benefits.
“Every pound we save in taking action on fraud reduces the cost of public services and makes taxpayers money go further,” said minister of state, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, in a statement.
Fraud is the most common crime in Britain, accounting for around 40 percent of all crime.
With the levels of fraud in the UK increasing, the NFI reported last year that the estimated cost of fraud for the public sector was between £29 billion and £52 billion per year.
The PSFA plans to recognise £185 million in audited benefits from its services in 2023–24 by directly pursuing fraudsters.
“The challenge is not yet over, but through the PSFA the government will continue to fight fraud against the public purse,” said Baroness Neville-Rolfe.
The PSFA has also committed to doubling the number of qualified fraud risk assessors in public bodies to 200. The authority falls back on a budget of £12.7 million this year. The PSFA plans to use the funding to review 15 public bodies against the Government Counter Fraud Functional Standard, adopted across the public sector.