City council bid to claw back lost Covid payments

time:2023-05-31 00:38:50 source:The New York Times

A council is fighting to claw back almost £100,000 claimed fraudulently or in error during the Covid crisis.

Norwich City Council said the money was intended to help struggling businesses at the height of the pandemic.

A total of £743,822 was paid out in error, it said, with 13 people claiming money fraudulently.

The authority had successfully reclaimed £652,146, leaving £91,676 still unaccounted for, the Local Democracy Reporting Service reported.

Fraudulent claims included cases where there was no eligibility but the grant had been paid "in good faith", the council said.

A further 92 grants were paid in error, including situations where there were "grey areas" in the guidance, and it was subsequently discovered a business could not have a grant.

The total lost amounted to less than one per cent of the total paid out in Norwich, which came to £75.8m.

The council refused to share any information about whether the cases of fraud had been passed on to the police.

While the money was handed out by local authorities, it came from central government and should not affect council budgets, it said.

The Norwich cash is a fraction of the cash being reclaimed nationally, with almost £1.5bn expected to be recovered by the end of the financial year 2022-23.

Lenders also stopped almost £2.2bn of potentially fraudulent claims for the separate Bounce Back loan scheme - and another £743m for schemes like Eat Out to Help Out.

If the council fails to recover the support grant cash the case can be passed back on to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) which will continue the enforcement process.

Green councillor Ben cost, chair of the audit committee at Norwich City Council, said: "The council operated in a very professional and diligent manner under extreme circumstances working to fulfil the guidance laid down by central government.

"Ultimately any system is open to abuse and I believe the council has done its due diligence to minimise that and recoup any potential losses due to fraud.

"We had to get money into the hands of people under financial constraints during the pandemic as soon as possible."

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