No Recourse to Public Funds (“NRPF”) (FOI-2697)
Dear ****** *******
Thank you for your request of 21st February. Further to our partial disclosure of 15th March, please find the full responses to the questions and all the documents. We apologise for the delay in issuing this response.
We write to request the following information under the FOIA in relation to assessments, including fraud investigations, of families with No Recourse to Public Funds (“NRPF”) seeking access to support from Hackney Council. We understand that Hackney has a specific Overstaying Families Intervention Team (OFIT) which has a fraud officer/ audit and anti-fraud officer (“AAF”) attached to it.
N.B. As of 1 March 2019 the Overstaying Families Intervention Team (OFIT) is now referred to as the No Recourse to Public Funds (“NRPF”) Team.
General request for documents
1. Please provide a copy of any other template/precedent letters/forms/documents currently used (or to be used within the next 3 months) by the OFIT or fraud investigator/ audit and anti-fraud officer (or team) in the conduct of assessments/investigations of families with NRPF seeking support from the Council.
Please find attached NRPF form and letter template.
2. Please provide us with any internal guidance or any other such written material used by/available to the OFIT in connection with the conduct of assessments of families with NRPF that is currently in operation.
The NRPF Protocol document is attached.
3. Please provide any information sharing protocols or other such written agreements with any of the internal Council departments and third parties with whom the OFIT share personal data (that includes both obtaining and disclosing personal data).
Please find attached the CFS information-sharing protocol and also refer to section 2.1 of the attached NRPF protocol.
4. Please provide us with a list of all job titles in the OFIT and/or provide us with an organisation chart for this team if this exists.
Refer to attached Protocols.
5. If a fraud investigator is employed by Hackney and is not part of the OFIT, please explain where within Hackney council the fraud investigator role is situated. Please include any organisational chart that may exist.
Please see Section 2.1 of attached protocol
If not provided in response to any of our General Requests for Documents detailed above, please provide us with the following:
6. Any guidance/policies/written documents concerning the process for referral of a person seeking support from the OFIT to the fraud investigator/ AAF.
NRPF and AIT work in a partnership. The investigator is embedded with the NRPF team, their role is to assist with collecting information relevant to the assessment; they assist with claim verification and, where appropriate, investigation.
7. A copy of any guidance/policies/code of practice/written documents used by the Council in an investigation into a person suspected of fraud in relation to their request for s.17 support.
Copy of the Anti-Fraud & Corruption Policy is attached.
8. A copy of any template letters/forms/notices etc. given to families who have been referred to the fraud investigator/ AAF for investigation.
The investigator is embedded with the NRPF team so there is no specific letter, etc, for this purpose. The NRPF application form and covering letter (attached) makes clear that an investigator works with the team, and that claims undergo a verification process. Please also note that where there is cause for the investigator to visit applicants they will always represent themselves as being the investigator, not a social worker.
If any of the guidance sought above does not exist, please state this in terms.
9. If there is no written guidance or if it does not cover the following points, please explain
a. We note that the Hackney’s OFOT Protocol dated January 2017 refers to audit and anti-fraud officer (AAF) being involved during assessments. Please confirm whether this is the case and confirm what criteria and/ or threshold, if any, must be satisfied for a fraud investigator/ AAF to participate during assessments?
The NRPF investigator provides a verification and investigative service. The clients are informed that they may receive a visit from the investigator to establish their residency and other circumstances as appropriate. Specific cases are referred for further investigation. The investigator will attend interviews at the request of a social worker where there are suspicions that false declarations have been made.
b. Please confirm whether fraud investigator/ AAF are present during interviews with applicants and if they are please confirm what criteria and/ or threshold, if any, must be satisfied for them to be present?
Interviews are carried out by Social Workers but if there is a suspicion of fraud or irregularity NRPF may ask the investigator to attend the interview. The clients are advised that the investigator can be asked to leave if there is anything sensitive that they need to discuss.
c. What notice, if any, is given to a family of any involvement by a fraud investigator/ AAF during the assessment and interviews thereto?
Clients are advised when they first make contact with Social Services that Anti-Fraud checks will be carried out where there are concerns about the accuracy of information that they provide. This is stated on the the application form completed by the client (attached).
d. In the event that the OFIT and/ or fraud investigator/ AAF has concerns about an applicant(s)’ credibility and considers that fraud may have been committed, how would this be investigated? For example, would the case be referred to the Council’s Counter Fraud Team for an investigation?
OFIT social workers will review the case and if there are any suspicions of fraud, or if additional verification of circumstances is required, they will refer the matter to the investigator that is embedded in the team. The detail of the investigation will depend on the concern that has been raised.
e. What notice is given to a family of their referral for such an investigation (either prior to referral, during or after conclusion of an investigation)?
Clients are advised when they first make contact with the NRPF team that enquiries will be made to confirm the information that they provide, and that this may involve the investigator. Clients are always informed of the outcome of their application for assistance, whether successful or not.
f. If a fraud investigation is conducted, is the information from the fraud investigation used for the purposes of the s.17 assessment? If so, how?
Evidence identified from verification enquiries is used to support the NRPF assessment of eligibility for service, whether this is positive or negative in terms of outcome. This includes findings from visits to the client"s home. Where anti-fraud enquiries are undertaken for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, any relevant information arising from these may be used to inform the claim assessment, in line with our legal responsibility to properly administer the public funds that the Council is responsible for, to the benefit of all Hackney residents. The benefits of this approach are that more accurate decisions are taken and uncertainty for clients is reduced as we are able to reach a conclusion on eligibility more quickly.
g. If Hackney Council considers fraud is established, is this prosecuted by Hackney Council or referred to the police?
Every case is assessed on its’ own merits, Hackney Council may prosecute or refer the matter to the police depending on the circumstances of the case.
h. If prosecuted by Hackney Council what statutory powers are being exercised?
The Fraud Act 2006
Does the OFIT ever require applicant(s) as part of a section 17 assessment to submit to a DNA test?
OFIT do not carry out DNA tests.
If no, please ignore the questions that follow in this section.
Credit reference agencies
16. Which credit reference agencies does Hackney’s OFIT request credit reports from?
17. Does Hackney Council use Equifax’s Public Sector Gateway service? If no, but you use an equivalent service, please provide details.
Please refer to our response to Q16
18. Has Hackney Council invoked the prevention of crime and fraud exemption in the Data Protection Act to obtain credit reports on families with NRPF seeking s.17 support?
London Borough of Hackney accesses credit reference information under the grounds allowed through our agreement with Call Credit (see Q20 below).
19. If yes, how many times in 2018?
54 checks were made in respect of NRPF applications in 2018.
20. If not already disclosed, please provide a copy of any information sharing agreements/service level agreements with credit reference agencies (we have no objection to commercially sensitive information such as any fees etc. being redacted).
The relevant extract from our Call Credit agreement allows searching for the following permitted purpose:
"Access to personal data at the request of (or on behalf of) a Local Authority (as defined in schedule 2) in connection with either: the prevention or detection of crime, apprehension or prosecution of offenders, the assessment or collection of any tax or duty or of an imposition of a similar nature; or where disclosure is necessary for the purposes of, or in connection with, legal proceedings, in each case where such activities are necessary for the discharge of a statutory function of the Local Authority relating to security, law enforcement and crime prevention."
21. How many assessments were undertaken by the OFIT in 2018?
108 (these are figures from 2017 April to 2018 March)
22. In how many of these cases was accommodation and/or subsistence support given?
23. How many families were refused support on the basis that their claims of destitution were not deemed credible by the OFIT?
24. Of those, in how many cases was support provided following further representations by or made on behalf of any representatives or following further information being provided?
Unfortunately we do not keep a record of the numbers of families refused support, or the reasons for this. To be able to gather the information for questions 23 and 24, we would need to examine each case individually and analyse them for the information requested. We believe that to do this for even one case would take a considerable amount of officer time.
The Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004 has set the appropriate limit as £450 based on a charge at £25 per hour. Section 12 of the Act states that the Council is not obliged to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the costs of complying with the request would exceed the appropriate limit.
The appropriate limit is represented by the estimated cost of one person spending 2½ working days (or 18 hours) in determining whether the Council holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information requested. Consequently the Council is not obliged to respond to your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We therefore believe that gathering this information would take longer than 18 hours.
The Information Commissioner advises that even one part of a request is exempt under Section 12, we should exempt the whole request and invite you to make a revised request. In this case we have opted to provide the answers to the other part of your request, that were possible to provide within the timeframe.
25. In how many of the assessments conducted in 2018 was the fraud investigator involved, either participating in the assessment conducted by the OFIT and/or conducting a separate fraud investigation?
75, including verification enquiries
26. How many families seeking s.17 support in 2018 were referred to the police in relation to suspected fraud?
27. How many families were prosecuted for fraud or fraud related offences in connection with seeking and/or obtaining s.17 support?
28. How many families were convicted of fraud or fraud related offences in connection with seeking and/or s.17 support?
If you are dissatisfied with this response and wish to appeal, please respond to this email to request an Internal Review.
If you are still not satisfied following the Internal Review, you have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner.
Information Commissioner"s Office
0303 123 1113
London Borough of Hackney