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Oxfordshire County Council: Keeping it local

The aim of the project was to develop a sustainable approach to counter-fraud across the county council activity, underpinning the council's policy of zero tolerance to fraud.

The objective was to create capacity and skills to deliver an integrated approach to counter-fraud activity; with the county Internal Audit Team working collaboratively with the Oxford City Council Investigation Team, managing preventative and detective work on fraud risk, and reactive fraud investigations as required. 

Issues, challenges and barriers

There have been several iterations to try and build a successful model of collaboration, initially trying to develop a partnership approach with the Oxford City Investigation Team (OCIT), moving to a more contractual arrangement for the procurement of their services. A good relationship has been developed for delivery of the reactive fraud activity.

A key practical challenge involved with building a collaborative approach is overcoming the barriers of having access to different systems across the two organisations and ensuring proper protocols are in place for the sharing of data.

Outputs and outcomes

The project has led to a more effective approach to counter fraud within Oxfordshire County Council, an approach that is still building and evolving.

The project provided the resources to develop an arrangement whereby the OCIT undertake the monitoring and initial assessment of referrals, action planning through to undertaking fraud investigations.

This has enabled the limited resources for counter fraud activity within the Internal Audit Team to be more focused on proactive fraud work (working with the OCIT).

The counter fraud activity continues to be developed within Oxfordshire County Council, but the project enabled successful initiatives to be developed in the areas such as direct payments (see example noted under impact section below), blue badges and single person discount.

With blue badges the project funded a pilot exercise where the OCIT worked with the service to undertake an activity, which is now completed annually, whereby the team spend a week across Oxfordshire inspecting blue badges (approx. 500-600 are checked during each exercise). Vehicles are identified that are not displaying a badge, invalid badge, or the badge holder is not part of the journey. Badges are seized, cases are reviewed, interviews are held and decisions then made whether to prosecute.

The project also helped to fund the development of a risk-based approach for single person discount review within the city of Oxford. In 2016 the exercise undertaken resulted in over 500 accounts being amended and the projected cashable return for Oxfordshire County Council was £250,000. This exercise has continued to be run. There now needs to be further work undertaken to explore opportunities across the remainder of the county.


The project has helped to develop a more efficient use of resources for counter fraud activity, ensuring the previous impacts on the internal audit plan have been minimised through access to the OCIT to trained skilled fraud investigators. The investigations undertaken have supported and enhanced the zero-tolerance approach of the organisation and provide a strong deterrent.

There is a greater understanding of fraud risk within the organisation. A good example is with direct payments where the project has enabled the Internal Audit Team to run a continuous programme of direct payment fraud awareness training to all social work staff (still continuing for new staff), undertake a proactive review of individual cases and work with the teams on fraud identification and referral routes. The impact of this can now be evidenced by the increase in the number of referrals, previously maybe one direct payment case per year, in 2018/19 there were nine received in the first six months. Three of these cases are now being pursued for recovery, one is still being investigated and one has been referred to the police for further action. The review of these cases has also enabled Internal Audit to undertake further work with the operational teams to improve the control environment.

Size of Grant

£81,000, savings of £59,000, yielding an RoI of 0.7.

Contact details

Sarah Cox, Chief Internal Auditor, Oxfordshire County Council, [email protected]