In Fraud, what fraud? part 1 we learnt that members of staff at The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) contacted me in April 2018 concerned that management at the Ombudsman’s office were condoning fraud. See extract below from Fraud, what fraud? part 1
In the last financial year (2017/18) PHSO has underspent. The issue with underspending is that previous year spending is used to calculate how much funding PHSO gets for the next year. This caused management in PHSO to panic. As a result, they promoted overtime close to the year-end (last two weeks has seen the biggest overtime promotion). Frontline staff were encouraged to claim overtime. The overtime rate for caseworkers was £45 an hour plus a bonus for doing 3.5 hours or more. That rate for a public sector organisation is criminal. In addition to this crazy overtime rate, staff were actually told to claim overtime even though they did not work. Staff were encouraged to fudge their timesheets. That is a fraud. I am sure that is illegal and can no longer watch this type of thing happening. Managers and staff in the operations team openly over claim in their time sheet to do reduced hours of work and to take extra time off in lieu, but this is taking this issue to another level.
As management were actively promoting these fraudulent overtime payments the staff members were unable to effectively raise their concerns and asked me to call for a full investigation. I tried to secure the data which would show a spike in overtime/bonus payments for the end of the financial year (2017) to support these claims, only to be told that PHSO held no records of individual payments due to outsourcing to a third (private) party. Accusations of fraudulent payments and lax record keeping were, in my opinion, the business of the National Audit Office (NAO)who could carry out a full investigation. However, in Fraud, what fraud -part 2 we learnt that remarkably the NAO were unable to investigate without the agreement of PHSO and that was hardly likely to happen.
I was hoping that the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) would pick up on this whistleblower claim of fraudulent spending in their annual scrutiny meeting with PHSO. I submitted evidence to the committee in December 2018 who had a focus on ‘value for money’ yet no questions were asked of the Ombudsman, Rob Behrens or the CEO Amanda Campbell. You can read the details here: Fraud, what fraud – part 3
I now had only one option left. A report to Action Fraud as recommended by the NAO who considered this to be the ‘appropriate authority’ for my concerns. From the Action Fraud website it did not appear that this was the most obvious place for an accusation of institutional fraud committed by a public body.
We provide a central point of contact for information about fraud and financially motivated internet crime. People are scammed, ripped off or conned everyday and we want this to stop.
The service is run by the City of London Police working alongside the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) who are responsible for assessment of the reports and to ensure that your fraud reports reach the right place. The City of London Police is the national policing lead for economic crime.
However, given this was my only option I attempted to contact Action Fraud and share my information. I thought that email would work well as I could forward on the message I received from the whistleblowers or failing that print it out and send it by post. I was surprised to find that Action Fraud have neither an email address or a postal address. (It’s almost like they don’t want the information) You can complete an on-line form but it required that I put in the name of the person who witnessed the fraud and I did not have that name so couldn’t get past the gateway. I checked Action Fraud out on twitter and asked them if they could send me a postal address as I had information I wanted to send. They did not reply. I browsed through their site and the following comments did not give me confidence that I had finally found the organisation to take notice of these serious fraud allegations.
And indeed it turned out that Action Fraud (you can contact them by phone but be very, very patient) only take a note of your concerns and do not investigate but use the information to form a ‘picture’.
When you report to us you will receive a police crime reference number. Reports taken are passed to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Action Fraud does not investigate the cases and cannot advise you on the progress of a case.
No investigation unless my information is supported by others to ‘form a picture’. I wondered why the NAO recommended such an option – didn’t they know this would happen? I had come to the end of the road.
So what is to stop PHSO management from encouraging inflated overtime payments again as the financial year draws to a close? Well, absolutely nothing. NAO office can’t investigate, PACAC are not inclined to investigate and Action Fraud, representing the police will only investigate if there is substantial evidence from a range of sources. Welcome to Great Britain – #corruptbydesign.