Confidential Reporting Policy
What to do if you suspect fraud or other irregularity
The people in the Council who are qualified to undertake investigations involving alleged fraud or corruption are:
- The Fraud Investigation Manager – for all allegations involving Benefit Fraud
- The Chief Auditor – for investigation of all alleged theft and fraud by officers, Councillors, contractors, and partnerships
- The Monitoring Officer – dealing mainly with matters relating to Councillors
- The General Manager, Information Technology – for investigation of alleged misuse of the Council’s computers and communication systems
There is a list of contact telephone numbers, including an out-of-hours confidential reporting telephone number, (the 'fraud hotline').
If you believe that fraud or corruption may be taking place you must report your concerns to one of the people listed above, (they will liaise with each other and with the relevant director as necessary) or to the fraud hotline.
Alternatively, if you prefer, you may report your suspicions to one of the following people, if you are:
- An employee: to your line manager or someone senior to your manager
- A Councillor: to the Director of Corporate Resources or Chief Legal Officer
- A contractor or in partnership with the Council: to your HBC contact person
- A member of the public: you should report your concerns to one of the officers listed in paragraph 8 or use the confidential reporting telephone line (paragraphs 29 and 30 give the telephone numbers).
You must not:
- Alert the suspected person. If you do so, it may not be possible to gather essential evidence and then it may not be possible to prove whether or not an offence has been committed. This is unfair both to the Council and the suspected person.
- Discuss concerns with anyone other than the people listed. (If other people are told and the investigation clears the person of wrongdoing, the person’s reputation will have been damaged with possible consequences for the authority).
You are protected by law from any form of detriment, harassment or victimisation regardless of the content of the concern you raise, with whom you raise the concern, and whatever the outcome of raising the concern, provided that you:
- Are disclosing the information in good faith
- Believe the information to be substantially true
- Are not acting maliciously or making false allegations
- Are not seeking any personal or political gain
If you bring information or accusations that you know are untrue, you may be subject to disciplinary action if you are an employee, or referred to a Standards Committee enquiry if you are a Councillor.
What to do if suspicions are reported to you
If you receive information from anyone under this Confidential Reporting Policy, you must never under any circumstances:
- Speak in a way that might lead the person giving the information to infer that you are making threats, criticising or ridiculing them
- Approach or accuse the individual about whom the suspicions are raised
- Give the person bringing the information a fair opportunity to explain their concerns to you
- While the person is speaking, write down the information that s/he gives to you (contemporaneous notes). Include a note of the date and time.
- Ask the person giving the information whether you may write down his/her name or whether s/he wants to remain anonymous
- Maintain strict confidentiality (the person reporting the matter may have a legal right to be able to report confidentially)
- Consult immediately with one of the officers listed in paragraphs 8 and give him/her a copy of your notes
What happens next
The people listed in paragraph 8 are experienced in fraud investigation and in presenting evidence. They will advise on, or conduct, or make arrangements for an appropriate investigation. This is important because:
- Directors, Managers or Councillors may appear to have an interest in the outcome of investigations that could be perceived as influencing the way they carry out the investigation.
- There are rules on what constitutes evidence and how evidence can be obtained. Different rules apply to different types of investigation. If the correct set of rules is not complied with, it may not be possible to use the evidence.
- A person may be alerted before adequate evidence has been gathered so that it will not be possible to 'prove' whether or not an offence has been committed. This is unfair to both the Council and the person suspected.
- The person who carries out the investigation must be prepared to give evidence and be cross-examined by the suspected person’s professional representative at a disciplinary or court hearing or an Employment Tribunal, or Standards Committee enquiry. (Evidence normally has to be given by the person who carried out the investigation or the evidence might be ruled out as hearsay).
- The situation may be allowed to continue without action apparently being taken while the right kind of evidence is being gathered. Concern that a situation may not be progressing should be discussed with the relevant person from the list in paragraph 8, but no-one else.
In the case of external benefit fraud, on the conclusion of the investigation the case will be referred to the Housing Benefit Fraud Prosecution Panel for a decision on how to proceed.
In cases other than external benefit fraud, a confidential outline of the results of the investigation will be given to the relevant Director with advice as to whether sufficient evidence exists to proceed to disciplinary action or to ask the police to press charges.
You can minimise the risk of falling under suspicion:
- Comply with financial regulations, operational procedures and HBC codes of conduct. Sometimes there will also be professional or other codes of conduct with which your post or professional status requires you to comply.
- Do not keep a process entirely to yourself, ensure that another person is involved in some part of each process (separation of duties).
- Ensure that you obtain any necessary authorisations in writing
- Disclose in writing your involvement with any person or activity or business that could be perceived as constituting a conflict of interest
If you are suspected
The Authority has a duty to investigate all reports of irregularity. This does not mean that the Authority supports the allegation. The investigation process will seek to determine impartially whether or not an irregularity has been committed, and if so, by whom.
In many cases, the investigation proves that the allegation is untrue. The relevant director or manager may then require a review of procedures and practices to minimise the risk of wrongful allegations being made again.
If you are an employee and there is evidence that you have committed an irregularity, your Director will decide how to proceed. You may be suspended from office until your case is concluded. If your director decides that the matter should go to a disciplinary hearing, a Personnel Officer will advise you of your rights, including your rights to representation. You may seek further advice from a union representative or, if you are facing prosecution, from a solicitor.
If you are a Councillor and there is evidence that you committed an irregularity, the Monitoring Officer will inform you of the process for a standards committee enquiry and explain your rights.
If you are a contractor or in partnership with the Council, you should consult your legal advisor.
You will be protected by the codes of conduct and legal safeguards relevant to the type of proceedings you are facing.
Ensuring the investigation is properly conducted
In cases other than external benefit fraud, the findings will also be reported to the Director of Corporate Resources who may review any aspect of the investigation.
If you need further information, or would like to discuss any issues in strict confidence, please contact:
- Confidential reporting line 01424 451527
- Chief Auditor 01424 451524
- Fraud Investigation Manager 01424 451530
- Monitoring Officer (01424) 451482
- Information Technology Manager 01424 451414
- Trade Union staff-side secretary 01424 451124
There are external points of contact for those who feel unable to voice their concerns internally:
- The Department for Work and Pensions has a free telephone hotline for reporting external benefit fraud. Telephone: 0800 854 440
- The Audit Commission runs a telephone hotline for staff who feel unable to report their concerns internally. Telephone: 0845 052 2646.
- Public Concern at Work will give free advice to employees with concerns about any form of malpractice, including fraud. Telephone: 020 7404 6609