Grave error as 5,000-plus blue badges registered to dead people
More than 5,000 parking permits for disabled drivers were registered to people who turned out to be dead.
The blue badges, which are supposed to be returned after the death of the holder, could have been used fraudulently, a report warned. Another 10,000 bus passes were cancelled after they, too, were found to be registered to deceased people.
Today's report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office examines the work of the National Fraud Initiative, a data-matching exercise which helps public bodies identify fraudulent and erroneous transactions. So far almost £30m in fraud and error has been identified, including £5.5m in the last two years.
In one case, auditors found the family of a pensioner who died in February 2012 had forged his signature on a document declaring he was entitled to the payments – 13 months after he passed away.
The key findings include:
- Suspected fraud, error and overpayment in relation to pension payments amounted to over £3.3m in the last two years.
- Housing benefit fraud and overpayments totalled more than £1.6m.
- Over 60 cases of rates evasion were identified, at a cost of over £350,000.
- Duplicate and erroneous payments to suppliers amounted to £102,000.
Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said that at a time of pressure on budgets, public bodies must use every means at their disposal to prevent and detect fraud and error.
"Every public sector body has a duty to demonstrate a zero tolerance to fraud and to play its part in challenging those who seek to commit fraud," he said.
"The results speak for themselves, with outcomes from the first three NFI exercises in Northern Ireland of almost £30m. This success relies on the commitment and effort of all participating organisations, and I commend all those involved in the review and investigation of data matches for the essential work that they do."
One of the most common examples of fraud concerns the use of blue badges.
The permits are issued to people with severe mobility problems and entitle holders to a range of concessions such as free parking in pay and display areas.
Fraud investigators compared information on blue badge holders to death records and found 5,117 matches, suggesting they could be used fraudulently.
The permits have since been cancelled by the Department for Regional Development, which administers the blue badge scheme.
Concerns were also raised over the use of concessionary travel passes, which are issued by Translink.
Matching of pass holders to death records revealed almost 9,800 cases where the pass was still in circulation, and could therefore be used after a death. The passes have all been deactivated.
The National Fraud Initiative is a data-matching exercise undertaken every two years which enables public audit agencies in the UK to participate in data-matching for the purposes of identifying fraud, error and overpayment. Over 100 bodies across the public sector participated. The exercise has identified around £30m in fraud and overpayments since it launched.