Out-Law News 1 min. read

UK’s new public sector fraud authority ‘more important than ever’

The UK’s new public sector fraud squad has its work cut out for it according to one legal expert, after ministers said the initiative would target misappropriated Covid-19 business loans.

Alan Sheeley of Pinsent Masons said the work of the new Public Sector Fraud Authority (PSFA), announced by ministers earlier this week, was “more important now than ever, given the speed with which fraudsters are developing sophisticated techniques to target public sector funds. This is especially true as it becomes more apparent that some of the loans provided during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic were fraudulently obtained.”

The new authority will be made up of counter-fraud and data experts who will work with departments and public bodies to test their fraud defences and modernise the government’s counter fraud response. Ministers hope the initiative will detect and prevent £180 million of fraud in its first 12 months of operation. One of the PSFA’s early priorities will be to help officials target and recover fraud linked to the government’s pandemic ‘Bounce Back Loan’ scheme.

Bill Geiringer of Pinsent Masons said: “Equipping the new authority with the right tools is key. Our vast experience of tackling fraud and recovering assets has shown that the use of innovative techniques such as forensic intelligence, forensic accountants and data analysis are key to recovery.”

Mark Cheeseman OBE will act as head of the authority until a permanent replacement is chosen. Cheeseman previously ran the International Public Sector Fraud Forum - a collaboration between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US and the UK. A cross-sector advisory panel will provide expert advice to the PSFA and help shape its strategic approach to public sector fraud prevention and reduction. The panel’s chair will be appointed in September.

Sheeley said: “It is pleasing to see the government providing investment and taking the right steps to fortify the response to public sector fraud. This should, however, only be the start of a wider campaign to tackle fraud on both the public and private purses.”

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