Increasing numbers of public authorities are using the data matching service for real time checks on potentially fraudulent applications
The National Fraud Initiative (NFI) is to focus on promoting the use of the AppCheck product over the next 18 months in the effort to reduce fraud in government services.
The Cabinet Office has highlighted its potential in the newly published annual report on the NFI, which it said has helped to save nearly £200 million over the past two years.
Its section on priorities for the near medium term says it will emphasise the use of AppCheck in prevent fraud, and encouraging authorities to integrate it into their existing controls.
AppCheck was developed to enable councils and other organisations to run their own checks on potential fraud in real time by drawing on data in the NFI centre, rather than waiting for the two-yearly exercise in which it carries out the checks.
It operates as software-as-a-service and authorities pay the NFI for a set number of credits for searches, averaging about £1 per check, or an annual membership fee.
The Cabinet Office move has come as Synectics Solutions, which manages the NFI Data Centre and developed AppCheck, has said that 52 authorities are now using AppCheck and 88 are at the trial stage.
It added that, while the tool was launched in April, take-up has gathered steam since August and there is also anecdotal evidence of authorities obtaining savings.
City of London Council has been among the early adopters, and its anti-fraud manager, Chris Keesing, said it has begun to produce results in spotting potentially fraudulent applications for social housing.
“There was a gap in the control framework where we might be able to make some improvements, especially around housing allocations,” Keesing said. “We have a small amount of social housing, but some of it is very expensive and for us to protect is very important.
“We thought we would give AppCheck a try, and the allocations manager was onboard straight away as he could see the potential benefits.
“Within a few weeks we got four hits out of 30, which in my view is a fantastic hit rate. We were able to deny responsibility for these individuals to go on the housing list as they had provided false information.”
He said that AppCheck was used largely to match the applications against council tax and electoral registration data, which provides City of London with “more than enough justification to carry out checks into their background”. It is particularly important as much of the authority’s social housing is in other boroughs, so it does not hold the council tax records itself.
“We’ve used it as a first line of enquiry to see if there might be a concern,” Keesing said. “It gives you an indication that information provided is potentially fraudulent and a justification to do more detailed background searches.”
He said there are plans to begin using the tool for right to buy applications, and is considering whether it could be used from next year in recruitment, checking on whether job applicants have the right to work in the UK.
Other councils have reported to Synectics that they have saved money they would have spent on feeds to credit reference agencies by using AppCheck.
Another tool, ReCheck, was also launched in April, making it possible to check customer records at intervals that can be programmed it. Synectics said its take-up has been lower so far, partly because there has been less of an effort to promote its use, although Keesing reported that City of London has used it to check on job applicants’ right to work.
He said it has identified a couple of cases where there was a need to investigate further, although these were for issues that were cleared up.
Image from Synectics Solutions