False Positives in NFI Hit Lists and council policy relating to these

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Dear Basildon District Council,

According to the Audit Commission, you were sent a hit list of 952 households to investigate in search of people receiving a 25% discount on their council tax bills when they were not entitled to a 25% discount.

The statutory Code of Data Matching Practice States:
“1.2.3 Data matching in the NFI involves comparing sets of data, such as the payroll or benefits records of a body, against other records held by the same or another body to see how far they match. This allows potentially
fraudulent claims and payments to be identified. Where no match is found, the data matching process will have no material impact on those concerned. Where a match is found, it indicates that there is an inconsistency that requires further investigation.”

The Audit Commission has explained this exercise as follows:

If there is only 1 adult in a property that person is entitled to a single person discount of 25% off their council tax liability unless they fall into a disregard category (for examples see below)
in which case other discounts and exemptions may apply. In cases where there is another adult(s) in the property and the adult(s) meet certain conditions (e.g. being severely mentally impaired,
certain apprentices, students, student nurses and youth training trainees), they can be disregarded when counting the number of adults in the household and therefore a discount may still apply.

Also within this exercise is a “Rising 18s match” which identifies young people becoming an adult on their 18th birthday who live with a council tax payer in receipt of a single person discount. This
age change can mean that the single person discount may no longer be applicable because there are now two adults in the household who count in determining the amount of council tax payable. However where the person turning 18 meets certain disregard criteria, such as being a student, the person liable for the council tax will continue to be entitled to receive a discount. The Rising 18s match will enable councils to address, at an early stage, the risk of persons continuing to receive single person discount after becoming ineligible to receive it due to a person who does not fall to be
disregarded turning 18 in their household. ”

The Audit Commission accepts that the mere fact there is more than one resident adult in a household on the electoral register does not mean that the household is not entitled to a council tax single person discount or that there has been a failure to inform the council of a change in entitlement to single person discount (as the other resident adult or adults may fall to be disregarded for council tax purposes for a number of reasons). It appears to have difficulty explaining how it conforms with the statutory Code of Data Matching Practice laid before Parliament by the Dept of Communities.

Please tell us

a) How many of those households were investigated by the council?

b) How many of those households turned out, after investigation, to be entitled to the 25% discount that had been deducted from their bill (irrespective of which part of Section 11)?

c) How many households have been reported to the Audit Commission as 'frauds'?

d) What is any council policies are in place on the level of proof/evidence required before such households are assumed to be fraudulent?

e) What rights of appeal against this assumption of fraud (as opposed to an appeal against a amended demand notice) do/would those involved have?

f) How did the number of 'hits' divide up between rising 18s and the other NFI council tax discount exercise?

g)
i Does your fair processing notification reflect the changes recently recommended by the Audit Commission or does it still state incorrectly that where a match is found it indicates that there is an inconsistency requiring investigation?
ii If so, when will the authority alter this notice so that it accurately reflects the uses made by the NFI of personal information relating to local residents and their households provided to it by the council?
iii If not, what is your understanding of the nature of the ‘inconsistency’ giving rise to ‘matches’ on this exercise? (Please ensure, of course, that your answer is fully consistent with council tax and electoral register legislation and regulations relating to entitlement, administration and definitions of ‘residence’ etc.)
iv Has the council debated the significance of this change in the FPN suggested by the Audit Commission in terms of the definition of data matching and the model FPNs in the statutory Code of Practice? If not, why not?
h) On what date was the last paper canvass of council tax discount recipients carried out by your council?
i) What were the costs involved in any mailings and other investigations of the NFI ‘hit’ lists?
j) Did you receive any complaints from those on the NFI hit list about being identified as a ‘match’ or being investigated in connection with a ‘potentially fraudulent’ claim or payment?
k) Does the Audit Commission collect information about a) how many of the ‘hits’ on each list you have investigated and b) how many hits turn out to be fully entitled all the time?

Yours faithfully,

K Hodgkinson

Basildon Borough Council

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Basildon Borough Council

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Dear Sir / Madam

Please find attached response to your recent request made for information
under the Freedom of Information Act.

Yours Sincerely
Peter Samuels
Service Advice Centre Officer

Please consider your environmental responsibility before printing this
e-mail

This message does not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies or
procedures of Basildon Borough Council or its partners and does not give
rise to any contract, undertaking or agreement. eMail is not a secure form
of communication. Every effort has been made to ensure that this message
has been correctly addressed. It and any associated file(s) may contain
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its partners.

Dear Basildon District Council,

Thank you for this, but this attachment cannot be accessed. Please send the information in a way that can be.

Thank you

Yours faithfully,

K Hodgkinson

Basildon Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Sir / Madam

I have now attached the response from our Council Tax department below:

Hopefully you can access the response this time.

Regards
Pete Samuels
Service Advice Centre Officer
The Basildon Centre
St Martins Square
Basildon
Essex
SS14 1DL
[email address]

From: K Hodgkinson <[FOI #49240 email]>
To: [email address]
Date: 18/11/2010 13:13
Subject: Re: Response to request - ref:03852846

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Please consider your environmental responsibility before printing this
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This message does not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies or
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of communication. Every effort has been made to ensure that this message
has been correctly addressed. It and any associated file(s) may contain
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Dear Basildon District Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Basildon District Council's handling of my FOI request 'False Positives in NFI Hit Lists and council policy relating to these'.

Referring to questions a b and c :

Referring to d,you have not answered my question, which is not about entitlement to a discount but about fraud. The two are different in law. Fraud is a criminal offence. Could I ask that you answer the question please.

Referring to question e, the question referred to fraud and not to an entitlement to a discount. You will be aware that the NFI issues reports on the amount of money saved by identifying fraud and that the whole point of the exercise is that the people on NFI 'hit' lists are 'potential frauds' as per the statutory code of data matching practice. Could I ask that you answer the question please.

Question f is another question which other councils have been able to answer without any difficulty, so once again I request that you do answer it.

I asked in question g when you last carried out a paper canvass, and you answer that you carry out a 'rolling' canvass. This does not answer the question. Please would you answer the question.

Question j asked whether you had any complaints. I did not even ask you how many. Therefore I think you could easily and cheaply provide an answer to this. Somebody you could phone up and ask must know.

You can answer question k as you provide the information and so you know what they collect.

I thank you very much for your future cooperation on this.

Guven the number of councils which have provided figures on rising 18s I find it hard to credit that Basildon has not kept figures to answer the numerical parts of the question. Please review this part of the answer.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/fa...

Yours faithfully,

K Hodgkinson

Basildon Borough Council

1 Attachment

I write to acknowledge receipt of your request for an internal review of
our handling of your request CRM ref number 3852846.

You will receive a response within ten working days

Thank You

Sue Smith
Customer Service Manager - Communication

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This message does not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies or
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of communication. Every effort has been made to ensure that this message
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personal responsibility of the sender and not Basildon Borough Council or
its partners.

Basildon Borough Council

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Dear Sir / Madam,

Further to your request for a review of your FOI request ref: 03852846, I
write to advise you that my Manager (Mrs S.Smith) is currently in receipt
of the updated response from the Council's Council Tax department. However
Mrs Smith is on leave at the moment and is due to return to the office
Monday 28th February.

You can expect to receive a response from her to your review by 2/3/11.

Yours Sincerely
Kind Regards
Peter Samuels
Service Advice Centre Officer.

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Basildon Borough Council

1 Attachment

Following on from your request for a review of the information provided to
you in relation to your request, please be advised of the following:

D) For Council Tax the Council has a Prosecutions and Sanctions Policy for
Council Tax Reductions. Decisions to prosecute for fraud are made under
the Crown Prosecution guidelines for criminal offences. The Council will
consider prosecuting in cases where it is considered that sufficient
evidence exists to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that fraud has been
committed. These cases will have satisfied the **Evidential** and **Public
Interest** tests.

E) The information provided by the Audit Commission is identified as a
mismatch, there is no assumption of fraud. The Council is obliged under
Audit Commission regulations to look into all cases referred to it as a
mismatch in data and see how the data can be corrected. Any person
aggrieved at appearing on the list provided by the Audit Commission would
need to refer their complaint direct to the Audit Commission. As there is
no assumption of fraud there is no right of appeal against an assumption
of fraud.

F) Rising 18**s = 431
Other mismatches = 1518

H) Due to cost and accuracy implications Basildon Council focuses on
targeted canvassing using Credit Bureau information. The last full paper
canvass of Single Person Discount cases was carried out in 2007.

J) No complaints were received to our knowledge as a result of NFI
matching. The Audit Commission provides the mismatch list and if a
resident were to complain about being named on the mismatch list they
would be referred to the Audit Commission as they provided the
information.

K) No information is collected directly from Basildon Council by the Audit
Commission. All the results of the exercise to check the mismatched data
are put directly on the Audit Commission secure website and they review
the results from there.

Please let me know if you have any further queries.

Yours sincerely

Sue Marriott
Customer Service Manager - Communication

Please consider your environmental responsibility before printing this
e-mail

This message does not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies or
procedures of Basildon Borough Council or its partners and does not give
rise to any contract, undertaking or agreement. eMail is not a secure form
of communication. Every effort has been made to ensure that this message
has been correctly addressed. It and any associated file(s) may contain
privileged or confidential information or details intended only for the
sender and the intended recipient. If this message is received by anyone
other than the intended recipient please delete the message and any
associated file(s) and destroy any printed copy. Please notify the sender
by a return e-mail or telephone and make them aware that the message has
been received by someone other than the intended recipient. If the subject
line of this email begins PER: then the email is a personal one and is the
personal responsibility of the sender and not Basildon Borough Council or
its partners.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

The Council says

The Council is obliged under
Audit Commission regulations to look into all cases referred to it as a mismatch in data and see how the data can be corrected.

This is not true: there is no requirement to look into all cases, though the Audit Commission does provide suggestions for the prioritisation and selection of individual matches this is not strictly speaking within its legal powers.

The use of the term mismatch is inappropriate: there is nothing unlawful or irregular about the situation identified by this data processing output.

Another council gets it wrong.

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