The Home Office does not know what the fraud is costing the UK economy or what the solution is being spent on, the independent public spending watchdog has found.
In its critical report on Tuesday, the National Audit Office said that the ministry leading the government’s action against fraud did not have a clear idea of the costs of the problem, or what resources are being used to curb it in the public and private sectors.
With fraud the biggest category of crime in England and Wales following a sharp rise in online fraud during the coronavirus outbreak, the findings will put pressure on the Home Office to address “significant gaps” in understanding the scale of the problem.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “Five years since our last report on this issue, the Home Office has taken limited steps to improve the fight against fraud.
“His approach lacks clarity of purpose, lacks the data to fully understand the problem, and fails to accurately measure the impact of his policies on this growing area of crime.”
According to the NAO, fraud accounted for 41 per cent of crimes against individuals in the year to June, up from 30 per cent in the year before March 2017. Internet fraud and computer abuse have soared in the past two years, fueled by an increase in the number of people shopping and interacting online during the pandemic.
Still, the number of frauds that resulted in charges or summonses fell from more than 6,400 five years ago to less than 4,820 as of March, according to government data.
In a series of recommendations, the NAO called on the Home Office to publish the planned strategy to curb fraud as soon as possible and to provide up-to-date measurements of its costs to the UK.
The watchdog says there are “significant gaps” in the Home Office’s understanding of the threat posed by fraud. It found that the department had not reliably estimated the cost of fraud to business or the economy, and that its £4.7 billion estimate of the cost to individuals was based on figures from 2015-16.
The NAO said that while the government had launched a range of different strategies on fraud and economic crime, it had yet to set clear outcomes.
He added that the government’s plans covered a range of topics including cyber security, the fight against corruption and organized crime, making it difficult for the Home Office to work with other departments and agencies such as the National Crime Agency.
The Home Office has been accused of leading five fraud-related acts during the government’s 2019-2022 term. economic crime planbut the NAO noted that these were all expressed as activities or aspirations rather than outcomes.
The Home Office said the government was “fully committed to tackling fraud and economic crime and will spend an extra £400 million to tackle it over the next three years”.
He added that he “recognizes[d] we can do more to understand the threat we face and how best to combat it,” and that the emerging fraud strategy aims to “mak.[ing] sure there is no safe place for fraudsters”.