Public money 'wasted' as Kent County Council lost £2.8m including £63k to care for dead resident

Kent County Council offices in Maidstone
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

Fraud and human error led to Kent's largest authority losing £2.8m last year and "wasting" public money. The huge increase has seen the council's management systems come under intense scrutiny as it navigates financial strain.

Kent County Council (KCC) faced harsh criticism when it was revealed that nearly £63,000 was paid to a care provider for the care of a deceased individual. Additionally, more than £16,000 was paid in salaries to employees who had already left the council. Other instances of invoice payment issues or invoices paid to fraudsters making false claims were also reported.

These irregularities were outlined in a report by KCC's counter fraud team and presented to the Governance and Audit Committee. The report revealed KCC lost £2,832,520 between April 2023 and March 2024 due to "irregularities", an increase from the previous year's loss of £517,000.

One example in adult social care states: "Incorrect hours entered onto a purchase order that resulting 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."

Councillor Ros Binks, committee chair, 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 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."

"The public do not like to see it wasted or going into the wrong hands"

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."

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."

Speaking at the meeting on May 16, Cllr Binks said more resources may be needed to support Mr Flannery's small team in the future.

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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