National Right to Buy Anti-Fraud Service
Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives
With a small team of less than 20 officers NAFN is leading the way in economic crime prevention for the public sector using one of the world’s fastest growing and most valuable commodities, data and intelligence. The Government’s Right to Buy scheme is designed to support council and social housing tenants to become homeowners, with wider aims to support economic growth and prosperity. However, with discounts of up to £140,000 (£78,000 outside London) and public awareness of the Government’s drive for the programme, fraud in this area has been on the rise.
NAFN provides a one-stop-shop for all public sector organisations’ data and intelligence enquiries to support protection of the public purse. In collaboration with the London Borough of Haringey Council and National Hunter, a financial fraud prevention agency, we have designed, developed and introduced a National Right to Buy business solution that offers a unique opportunity to prevent and detect fraud and crime. This is an innovative approach which has brought together public and private sector stakeholders. The business solution has created a national dataset of suspected fraudulent Right to Buy applications that previously did not exist.
What are the key achievements?
Training was provided by NAFN to enable users to begin submitting their suspected fraudulent Right to Buy applications. After vetting, these submissions are sent to National Hunter for further investigation and their response is returned to NAFN before onward communication to the requesting authority. The system has now been in operation for more than two years and is already delivering significant benefits for all stakeholders.
Since the introduction of this initiative the overall savings are in excess of £6 million. Examples of positive outcomes include: An application in the London Borough of Wandsworth was declined to the value of £167,000 further to evidence that the applicant was resident in another property; A further case in the London Borough of Enfield uncovered both benefit fraud and prevented a fraudulent application with an overall value of £320,000; An applicant on housing benefit with rent arrears of £16,500 failed to declare the property interest of a partner with an independent income of £1,000 per month. The local authority avoided a loss of £240,000.
What are the key learning points?
Key challenges included both public sector authorities and private sector lenders understanding the value of sharing information and the need to do so expediently. On occasion, local authorities having successfully received the intelligence to refuse an application, do not feedback to the lender. Ensuring they each have knowledge of the use of the information and any outcomes is key to overcoming this and ensures the private sector remains engaged in support of protecting the public purse and responsible lending.
This joint-initiative now provides a key element in the prevention and disruption of fraudulent submissions and enables the public sector to undertake enhanced verification and validation checks to support their due diligence on suspected fraudulent Right to Buy applications. The business solution focuses on the prevention of crime identifying at the earliest opportunity the grounds to refuse an application. The system highlights inconsistencies that investigators can use to determine whether Right to Buy applications are legitimate. Also, this initiative has led to a reduction in processing time which is a significant benefit for all the organisations involved.
This initiative provides the ability to share and request information to support decision making which can result in action against offenders such as: Removal from the local Housing Register; Eviction from a property; Issue of a formal caution; Initiation of civil/criminal proceedings of an unlawful profit order; Prosecution and confiscation of property and assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The system has delivered unexpected wider benefits. For example, a finance company, having noted the multiple use of a business name for employment records of Right to Buy applicants, requested NAFN to circulate an alert to all its members. This information provided further guidance on avoiding fraudulent claims.
All successful outcomes serve as a deterrent for future perpetrators of right to buy fraud and how NAFN’s initiative has successfully brought together a robust network of financial lenders and public sector organisations to share data and intelligence to prevent crime. All organisations involved also improve their own reputations and avoid becoming known as “easy targets” for unscrupulous individuals.
NAFN works with its members and stakeholders in an agile and flexible manner to enhance, expand and sustain its range of services. With the opportunity to access discounts up to £104,900 (£78,600 outside London), there remains an ongoing incentive for all parties to remain engaged and utilise this prevention of Right to Buy fraud initiative.