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Kent County Council fraud and human error cost tax-payers £2.8m

Management systems at Kent’s biggest authority have come under fierce scrutiny after losses to fraud and human error rocketed five-fold to £2.8m last year.

Kent County Council (KCC), which is currently under severe financial strain, came in for withering criticism when it was revealed a care provider was paid nearly £63,000 to look after someone who was dead.

County Hall Maidstone
County Hall Maidstone

And it emerged more than £16,000 was given in salaries to council workers who had left the authority.

There were other examples of invoice payment issues or invoices paid to fraudsters making false claims.

These discrepancies were highlighted in a report by the counter fraud team at KCC and delivered to the Governance and Audit Committee on May 16.

"Irregularities" accounted for KCC losing £2,832,520 between April 2023 and March 2024 - up from £517,000 in the previous year.

One example in adult social care states: “Incorrect hours entered onto a purchase order that resulted in the provider invoicing against the full value but delivering against the care plan which had half the amount of hours, resulting in an over-payment of £82,000.”

Another says: “Payment to a provider following a novation of contracts to another provider, potential loss £140,000.”


Committee chair, Cllr Ros Binks, launched a scathing assessment of errors which has led to the “wasting” of public money.

She asked: “How can we be paying people that aren’t actually working anymore for KCC? How can that happen? Why haven’t the checks been done?

“I don't quite understand how we can be paying people who aren’t on the payroll or paying an invoice without checking it and how we can have care being delivered and not know they are under-delivering.”

Deputy council leader Cllr Peter Oakford said that it may be that “staff and managers are not doing their job correctly”.

He added: “It’s a very basic management role that HR are informed and the person is taken off the payroll.”

KCC Cllr Peter Oakford
KCC Cllr Peter Oakford

KCC counter fraud manager James Flannery, who is not responsible for the errors but reports their existence to the members, explained the high financial losses year on year were because of “better awareness” of reporting irregularities of fraud and error.

He told members: “It has been my view that these irregularities have always been within the service - it’s just that they haven’t necessarily always been reported to the internal audit.

“There has been significant work completed over the year by the counter fraud team to not only raise awareness but to work with management to mitigate risk of irregularities occurring again.”

Regarding the over-payment of salaries, Mr Flannery said: “The process is that when we get an irregularity regarding a salary over-payment, we do engage with the recruiting manager or line manager to understand why the error occurred in the first place.

“Unfortunately it is human error a lot of the time. It could be the manager is on long-term sick and the person left and the relevant actions weren’t taken in the system.”

Kent County Council chamber
Kent County Council chamber

Cllr Binks, while noting it is not the counter fraud team’s fault the errors happened, added: “I think there is a point where you can lose sight of the fact that some of these errors are wasting public money and I am sure an awful lot of the public would like to be paid by mistake…and I think that we should be looking at that with considerably more vigour than ‘Oh dear, what went wrong there and why did you do that?’.

“It’s our (councillors’) job to say that it is not acceptable. We are dealing with public money and the public do not like to see it wasted or going into the wrong hands.”

Cllr Trevor Bond raised the question of whether staff who have left KCC but remain on the payroll still have valid passes or access to the IT system.

He added: “The payroll system is a worry.”

KCC Cllr Chris Passmore, Lib Dems
KCC Cllr Chris Passmore, Lib Dems

There were five cases of salary over-payments to former KCC staffers with a total loss of £16,434. A further two instances of irregularities of employees working for KCC via agencies “whilst having a substantive role elsewhere”.

The number of referrals for “irregularities” rose by 30% from 356 (2022-23) to 463 (2023-24).

The papers state: “An increase in referrals is a good indication of awareness of the need to report irregularities to Internal Audit and Counter Fraud to assess where an investigation is required, ensure risks are assessed and mitigated, identifying lessons to be learnt and financial recovery occurs.”

The report states there has been an increase in procurement irregularities of “invoice of services not delivered/over-payments due to inputting errors”.

The papers also note that the adult social care team process around 40,000 transactions with a value of more than £50m every four or five weeks.

Of 313 cases of abuse of disabled blue badges, only three were prosecuted.

Asked by Cllr Chris Passmore if more money should be spent on counter fraud measures, Mr Flannery said: “It’s in prevention that I would like my resources to be, moving forward.

“It’s that hard balance between reactive work and proactive work.”

Cllr Binks said more resources may be needed to support Mr Flannery’s small team in the future.

LGiU's Jonathan Carr-West
LGiU's Jonathan Carr-West

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the Local Government Information Unit, said: “County councils are large and very complex organisations handling a vast number of transactions each year and they handle services across a huge spectrum.

“But whether there is realistically any scope to tighten up, who knows. But there are no conversations I am aware of that Kent is in any way different to other large councils.”

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