HOUSING benefit fraud investigations could suffer when they are handed to the Government, Oxford City Council’s deputy leader has warned.

The council will lose the powers to a Government body from February under national reforms.

Ed Turner, the Labour-run council’s deputy leader, said the move to a “Single Fraud Investigation Service” was “nonsense”.

He said: “The Government has said it is going to take over detecting all fraud and we remain to be convinced whether it will be able to do that.

“It has told us it is taking away the money to fund this and if the Government has the same success taking over this service as it had with the reforming of benefits then it is not going to go very well.”

He added: “It is very likely that we as a council will retain some general fraud capacity.

“There are other areas which are vulnerable to fraud such as council tax and business rates that we wouldn’t trust the Government to root out.

“We won’t go down the road of saying that the Government is looking after this so it will be all right.”

The council is reviewing “resourcing requirements” but Holywell councillor David Thomas said he feared it would hit other benefit investigations. The Green Party member said: “I think they do a brilliant job and I would like to see the team maintained.

“My concern will be that the council will not be able to recover the same amount of cash from fraud as it has done in the past.”

Suzy Drohan, joint manager of Oxfordshire Welfare Rights, which gives benefits advice, said she was also concerned.

She said: “When you deal with a Government agency it is normally through a call centre and it just ends up with a lot of frustration.

“You will probably lose that personal touch and local knowledge.

“It might look like it cuts costs but it could cost more in the end because it means more work and the investigations might not be as thorough.

“Not all benefit investigations lead to fraud charges or money being paid back.”

Council spokesman Louisa Dean said: “The council continues to be committed to eliminating all forms of bribery, fraud, corruption and to protecting public funds.”

The Department for Work and Pensions did not comment.

Its benefit reforms include the introduction of universal credit, a single payment to replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits.

It was meant to be piloted in October 2013 ahead of a national roll-out by 2017.

But so far only one of the four pilots has gone ahead following IT system failures.

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