Cifas research reveals false housing benefit claims are the third most prevalent fraud in UK

Recent research carried out by Cifas, the UK’s leading fraud prevention service, has revealed that falsely claiming Single Person Discount is the third most prevalent type of fraudulent activity carried out by British adults.

Single Person Discount is where a person claims to live in a single-person household in order to receive a Council Tax discount from their local authority. In the 2017/18 financial year, detected single person discount fraud was estimated to be £15.8m – money that could have been used to support other services and individuals within the community.

The research, carried out in conjunction with WPI Economics, also showed that adults in London were twice as likely to believe that falsely claiming a Single Person Discount on Council Tax is reasonable (14%), as opposed to respondents in the East Midlands, West Midlands, or South East (7% each).

These figures are being used as part of the Cifas ‘Faces of Fraud’ campaign, which aims to challenge those seemingly harmless behaviours that are in fact, illegal.

To combat instances of Single Person Discount, Harrow Council has collaborated with Databank to identify fraudulent and erroneous applications for Single Person Discount, which has helped it save an estimated £3.6m in revenue. Harrow Council now has the lowest incidence of Single Person Discount fraud.

Fern Silverio, Head of Service – Collections & Housing Benefits for Harrow Council, said: ‘Like other Councils, Harrow is under pressure to maximise its income, particularly in the face of recent funding cuts. Our partnership with Datatank has helped us maximise our returns, through eliminating the loss of revenue we would have experienced otherwise. It has helped us keep fraudsters on their toes, at the same as future-proofing our own validation techniques.’

In addition to Single Person Discount, unlawful subletting also remains a key housing fraud issue for local authorities. According to the CIPFA Fraud and Corruption Tracker Summary Report 2018, housing fraud, a seemingly ‘victimless’ crime to many, is estimated to have cost local authorities over £216m in the 2017/18 financial year, and this includes fraud on right to buy and unlawful subletting.

Unlawful subletting in councils occurs when individuals let out their council housing without the permission of the council, meaning that in times of high demand for social housing, those in need may be denied the housing they require due to a seeming lack of available housing. Unlawful subletting is a criminal offence in the UK and can lead to criminal prosecution and the loss of the individual’s home.[1]

Kevin Campbell, deputy head of Internal Audit and Anti Fraud from Waltham Forest Local Authority, said: ‘Council housing is in huge demand, and when a tenant’s circumstances change – for example, where they may have married and moved in with a partner – a council property is vulnerable to subletting. Council tenants do not want to relinquish their tenancies, as they are aware they may never obtain a council property again. Due to extremely high private rental charges in the area, by subletting a council property at a similar market rate to privately-owned properties, the council tenant will make a huge profit.

‘Subletting has a huge impact on the Borough and local community, as the Council is unable to offer these properties to people in genuine need.’

Mike Haley, Chief Executive Officer of Cifas, said: ‘Unlawful subletting and fraudulent housing claims put huge financial pressure on local authorities and, more importantly, it means that families are missing out on the opportunity of a much-needed home.

‘The consequences of this type of fraud are very serious indeed, and could result in a criminal conviction and a prison sentence. I would urge anyone thinking of falsely claiming housing benefit to consider the real impact this can have on their future as well as that of the community at large.’

SmartSearch named in Sunday Times TechTrack100 annual list of Britain’s fastest-growing tech companies

Leeds Anti-Money Laundering (AML) firm SmartSearch is officially one of the fastest-growing tech companies in Britain after being named in the Sunday Times Tech Track 100.

The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 league table ranks Britain’s 100 private tech companies with the fastest-growing sales over their latest three years. 

It is compiled by Fast Track and published in The Sunday Times each September; the 19th annual list will be revealed in full this weekend.

SmartSearch has been placed 86th in the list following average sales growth over the past three years of 56% to £8.1m.

The Ilkley based firm is one of just five companies from Yorkshire to make the list and the highest-ranked newcomer from the region.

To be included in the list, companies have to be registered in the UK and be independent, unquoted and ultimate holding companies. They are ranked according to the compound annual growth rate in sales over the latest three years; annualised sales have to exceed £250,000 in the base year and £5m in the latest year.

John Dobson, CEO at SmartSearch said: “2019 has been our most successful year to date; so far this year we have onboarded almost 300 clients, adding more than 3,700 new users to the platform – to take the total clients to over 4,000 and users to 38,000.

“We knew that we had grown significantly over the past three years, but to see just how well we have done compared to our peers is fantastic. The fact we are now officially the 86th fastest-growing tech firm in Britain and 4th in Yorkshire is a fantastic achievement.”

John concluded: “And, with the 5th anti-money laundering directive stipulating that identity checks should be electronic wherever possible, the demand for our services is only going to increase.”

Ultimate Finance announces strategic refocus to invest further in asset-based lending

Specialist asset-based lender, Ultimate Finance, today announces a strategic refocus of its product portfolio as it withdraws from the unsecured loan market to concentrate on further investment in its range of core asset-based solutions.

The decision enables a full focus on growing its market-leading Invoice Finance, Asset Finance and Bridging products, and aligning its depth of offering into bespoke structured solutions suitable for individual client needs.

Unsecured loans will no longer be provided on a standalone basis, although clients will continue to have access to cashflow loans alongside Ultimate Finance’s secured products. Ultimate Finance will continue to support and service existing unsecured loan clients until the end of their facility.

Commenting on the move, Josh Levy CEO of Ultimate Finance, said: “We are committed to ensuring that our structure and strategy allows us to be responsive to market conditions and positioned to capitalise on our growth potential.

“By no longer offering standalone unsecured loans and solely focusing on asset-based lending, we are prioritising our core strengths and ensuring that our market proposition is clear and concentrated on our specialist areas of secured lending. We are committed to continuing to provide our clients, including those with existing unsecured loans, with high levels of service enabled by technology.

“The strength of our people and our focus on serving the funding needs of our clients in a personal and flexible manner, returned H1 growth figures that we were all proud of. Now evolution is needed to reach our long-term aspirations and to capitalise on the huge opportunity in front of us.”

Comment – Is the ECB easing too early?

Euro interest rate markets are pricing in a rate cut by the ECB at its next policy meeting on 12 September.

The current Euribor forward curve suggests that the ECB will eventually take its deposit rate from its present level of -0.40% down to -0.75% over the next two years. In addition, it is widely expected that further monetary stimulus will follow, for example in the form of another lending programme and a new round of quantitative easing (QE). To underline its commitment, ECB officials have recently stated that rates will (once more) remain “lower for longer”. How long exactly? Markets seem to expect “very long” with the 20-year swap rate trading barely above 0%.

Looking purely at interest rates markets, one would get the impression that the Eurozone has turned “Japanese” and entered a prolonged period of low growth and deflationary pressures that call for indefinite accommodative monetary policy by the central bank. This is astonishing, given that only a few weeks ago markets were much less pessimistic about the economic outlook as evidenced by the development of the 10-year swap rate, which fell off a cliff at the start of August.

It is true that the economic picture has been worsening for a while now. Trade disputes remain unresolved, and Italy’s slow growth and indebtedness continually pose a large downside risk – as does Brexit. Moreover, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is flirting with recession.

No Armageddon, just yet

However, Germany’s slowdown comes after a long expansion that has led to record employment levels. France, the Eurozone’s second largest economy, is growing at a decent pace. Having been cause for concern in the not-too-distant past, Spain and Portugal are now doing quite well. Overall, inflation in the Eurozone is running at 1% – in line with what inflation-linked bonds are pricing in for the future. Admittedly, this is still a good way off the magic 2%-inflation mark central bank’s target, but it is hardly on the cusp of deflation. Finally, unemployment in the Eurozone has now fallen to 7.5% – a level not seen since before the 2008 crisis. To sum up: while not necessarily in rude health and as vulnerable as ever, the euro area doesn’t seem anywhere close to the economic and financial Armageddon that beckoned in 2008 and 2012, when the Eurozone faced a real risk of disintegrating.

This begs the question why the ECB feels so compelled to provide additional stimulus at this moment. It seems as if the ECB is breaking the glass before an actual emergency has happened. I am the first to admit that the interventions in 2012 and the QE programme introduced in 2015 were necessary to preserve the common currency and ease the burden for highly indebted countries. However, to a casual observer it seems that the situation has greatly improved since, and hence I struggle to see the case for another bond buying programme. By announcing such wide-ranging measures in the absence of a full-blown crisis, one wonders what Mme Lagarde will do when faced with a real recession. It also provides another pretext for politicians to sit back and postpone fiscal reforms that address the fundamental flaws of the common currency.

How effective is cutting interest rates?

Even more contentions than another round of QE is the potential decision to take interest rates further into negative territory by cutting the central bank deposit rate. The effectiveness of interest rate cuts as an economic stimulus is contested. After more than four years of negative rates and not much to show for it in the way of growth, the adage that cutting interest rates is “like pushing on a string” rings very true. Recent research from the University of Bath contends that negative interest rates have reduced bank lending rather than encouraging it. Doubling down on a mostly exhausted toolkit, the ECB seems poised to inflate financial assets further while doing little to create actual growth and inflation. That said, if the European Central Bank was serious about creating inflation, it should resort to “helicopter money” and write cheques for Euro area citizens as recently suggested by a European think-tank.

I for one am puzzled by the ECB’s intention to up the ante and provide further accommodation at this present moment. And I am equally bemused by markets pricing in below zero Euro rates for the next decade to come. It is a bet I wouldn’t take.

By Moritz Sterzinger, Director at JCRA

Small businesses set up plans for overseas expansion

Across nine UK regions, more than one in five small business owners (22%) are looking to expand into new markets overseas in order to achieve business growth.

The latest findings from the quarterly Business Barometer research by Hitachi Capital Business Finance comes at a time when the country is gearing up for the Brexit deadline. Set against warnings of an economic slowdown, the small business community is pushing forward with positive new initiatives over the next two months in order to secure growth.

Overall, 64% of small business owners polled said they were considering new initiatives in the three months to 30 September to help boost their growth prospects – and businesses working on such initiatives were significantly more likely to have an upbeat business outlook for the three-month period. Sectors where small businesses were most likely to be working on specific new plans included real estate (74%), IT/telecoms (71%) and manufacturing (70%). More seasonal businesses such as agriculture (60%), construction (59%) and hospitality (45%) were among the least likely to be working on new initiatives to achieve growth.

What are small businesses prioritising in order to achieve growth?

For the vast majority of small businesses, controlling costs and cashflow was a critical priority. For those looking to expand, the top consideration was looking at new markets overseas – a clear sign that small businesses are already adjusting to a worldview beyond the EU and the need to forge new business alliances.

A financial makeover was also a priority for many. Some business owners wanted to re-assess their current finance commitments whilst others were looking out for suitable finance partners beyond their high street bank. Investing in new equipment was a priority for around one in seven respondents – and it was a top consideration in agriculture (35%), media (21%), hospitality (21%) and construction (19%).

Which businesses are spreading their wings?

With the recently formed Government committed to helping British businesses to compete on the international stage, media IT/telecoms and manufacturing emerged as the sectors where small business owners were most likely to be considering overseas expansion. Regionally, pretty much across the UK, more than a fifth of small businesses were looking to grow their ventures overseas.

Gavin Wraith-Carter, Managing Director at Hitachi Capital Business Finance commentated: “The relative size and agility of Britain’s smaller businesses positions them well to react quickly to the post-Brexit landscape and adjust their plans to compete and grow. The relatively high number of business owners that is looking abroad to identify opportunities presents grounds for confidence and optimism.

“When considering the broader range of growth initiatives, access to finance was also an important consideration for many small business owners. Whether this be reviewing current commitments or investing in new equipment and assets, access to the right products at the right time is crucial to power growth. Hitachi Capital Business Finance is working hard to support small business growth at a critical time for the economy at large.”

A Leading Light In A Changing Industry

It’s been a busy few years in the alternative lending sector. FCA supervision of the sector in 2014 has been followed by a renewed focus on a few businesses whose practices threatened to harm the most vulnerable of consumers.

In the midst of these changes, we went through some significant changes of our own.  As the largest niche debt purchaser of alternative lending accounts, we received our FCA authorisation in August 2016 which coincided with more rigorous processes and a clearer vision of who we wanted to be.

This was followed in October 2017 by significant investment from Copper Street One – an entity of UK specialist investment firm Copper Street Capital LLP – which has strengthened our balance sheet and enabled us to make a greater number of purchases since the acquisition.

 

A new name for a new day
Despite these significant internal changes our public-facing brand has, up to now, remained largely unchanged. We knew it was time for the reputation we’ve built for industry-leading standards of customer care and regulatory compliance – for doing things the right way – to be reflected in our name.

Our choice of name for the rebrand which occurred on 8th March 2018 – Lantern – truly reflects an image that represents all of the changes undergone by the business.

Why ‘Lantern’? Because we wanted a name that captured our ambition to be more than simply a debt purchaser and collector. We wanted a name that would remind us of the high standards we set ourselves – to go beyond mere compliance for our lenders and to genuinely care for each of our customers.

As we step into the future with a new name and a renewed sense of purpose – we do so believing we are a leading light in a changing industry, one that will surely see more lights appearing in years to come.

 

Denise Crossley FCICM
Chief Executive, Lantern
www.lanternuk.com

 

To find out more, please contact:
Michelle Moore
Head of Sales & Client Relations, Lantern
Mobile: 07730 748153
michelle.moore@lanternuk.com

From career woman to working mum

Mum’s Enterprise Ltd, a company dedicated to facilitating positive change and gender equality across the nation,have today launched their report; ‘FROM CAREER WOMAN TO WORKING MUM’ to coincide with Maternal Mental Heal Awareness Week 2018.

This is the first initiative launched as part of their ‘Happiness Project’, a campaign dedicated to supporting a happier nation. The thought provoking and sensitive report has been collated drawing on this insight of over 1,000 mums across the UK and this free resource is available to download now.

The report explores what mothers desire to feel fulfilled and happy in their working lives, post-children. It offers real insight, sharing tangible comparisons of happiness levels throughout the journey of motherhood. It explores women’s hopes and dreams and the fears that all to often hold them back from making a positive change in their work or business lives.

Lucy Chaplin, Creative Director comments, “Too many women are still suffering in silence and we need to work together to drive change across the UK. I hope that this report will draw attention to the plight of professional mums who have worked hard to get somewhere, only lose confidence and feel guilty when they have children and that businesses will recognise that more flexible working patterns could make millions of workers happier and more productive and help them retain talent.”

Lindsey Fish, Founder and CEO of Mum’s Enterprise comments, “Everything about the work we do here at Mum’s Enterprise Ltd comes down to one purpose, and that is to help change the work and business lives of mums for the better forever. We have been working hard for three years to get to this point, we have organised five exhibitions in this time with two more planned, our biggest yet this year and I am excited about the change we are helping make happen across the nation.”

“The launch of our independent report; ‘Career Woman to Working Mum’, is the first of many initiatives we have planned. I am very passionate and conscious myself about the impact of becoming a mother overnight and in the years that follow, the effect that it can have on your mental health and well being. I truly intend to make it my life’s work to continue on our mission to help millions #shootforthemoon.”

‘Taking the robot out of the human’

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a hot topic nearly everywhere at the moment, and is also starting to develop within the collections environment. RPA involves using robots to carry out specific functions quicker, and with a greater degree of accuracy and consistency, than a human would be able to do. It broadly comes in two forms:

  • Attended applications, which sit on the desktop alongside the collections agent and work in tandem with the human agent, carrying out certain mundane parts of the process, while the agent handles more complex tasks.
  • Non-attended applications, which function independently and are able to access the system and carry out functions or processes without any human intervention.

Augmenting – a robotic helping hand

We have found that the robots can create considerable benefits by taking away some of the manual work that is involved in all collections activity.

For example, in our field-collections work, it was previously a considerable manual job to gather the information from multiple sources to send to each of the agents; now this work is all performed by robots.

However, it is not generally a question of replacing agents, but rather supporting and augmenting what they do. So the time which is now not spent on mundane repetitive tasks, can instead be used, for example, on more complex, judgement-intensive tasks, which is often what the employee was hired to do.

Robots have been successfully deployed throughout the back-office suite as a complementary tool, which provides a competitive edge.

Increased accuracy

The initial perception is, perhaps, that RPA is merely a cost-saving measure and, although this is true, in practice, there are additional benefits, such as significant improvements in accuracy and speed, plus reduced training times for agents, as they have the support of the ‘robot team’.

As human beings, we are not actually very good at – nor do we much enjoy – carrying out endlessly repetitive and mundane tasks over a prolonged period of time, as this leads to mistakes, which can be costly to an organisation. Robots, of course, are extremely good at carrying out these tasks.This is, as we say ‘taking the robot out of the human’ and freeing the human up to do high value, and more stimulating, work.

On the journey

The use of these robots is now very much ingrained within our processes and culture, both internally and in the services that we can offer to clients, but we are also aware that we are only dealing with a technology which is in its very infancy in terms of widespread adoption.

At the moment, people are starting to understand the empowerment of bots and agents working more closely together, so that we treat the bots like agents, but with different skill-sets; the bots carrying out the mundane tasks, and the agents doing the cognitive work, where they excel.The next steps will be to make bots even smarter, by harnessing the power of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

RPA, coupled with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and AI, will allow us to tackle unstructured data, which is currently challenging for bots to handle.

In this way, we see that we are on the cusp of intelligent automation, where the bots learn what the best processes to automate are, then start to automate them by themselves.

However, again, it is a question of augmentation rather than replacement – there will always be a need for the unique skills of empathy and understanding that a human can bring.

Debbie Nolan
Commercial director,
Arvato Financial Solutions
debbie.nolan@arvato.com

7 Top Tips to Improve Invoice Finance Due Diligence

Underwriting a new Invoice finance deal is said to be the point of greatest risk for the lender. Saying “no” is easy but will not grow your business, and there will still be uncertainties no matter what analysis you have done.

Aaron Hughes, Managing Director at Equiniti Riskfactor lists his seven top tips to make the due diligence process easier and faster:

1. Fine tune your decision chain – can a deal be done?

Move from new enquiry to a firm offer of facilities quickly. Gather as much information as possible at the outset and then decide if there is a deal to be done. This includes assessment of financial performance and cash flows, as well as suitability for the facility required. An offer of facilities “subject to survey” can gain commitment and exclusivity. Ensure as few people as possible are involved in the decisions leading to the conditional offer or instruction of a full Survey – but make sure they are appropriately skilled and that the right performance measures are in place.

2. Empower your BDMs

The Business Developers are pivotal to converting an enquiry into a deal. Doing this quickly means as few hand-offs as possible. Each organisation will differ in their credit policy, but an experienced and skilled BDM will see the potential deal structure. Technological support for the BDs in gathering the information needed to progress the application will increase efficiency and improve their ability to make informed decision

3. Finesse your survey resource – find a time that suits the prospect

Complete the Survey quickly, and at a time that suits the prospect. Clear processes should be in place to allow Surveyors to complete Surveys at a time suggested by the Prospect. Surveys should be prioritised over routine audits of existing customers, but few lenders have the scale to maintain a dedicated Survey resource. Where necessary, outsourcing should be considered, and a risk -based approach taken to deprioritising back-book audits.

4. Preparation is everything

Gather the right amount of information at the outset and focus the Survey on the key risk areas. Data extraction from the prospect’s accounting system in advance will allow full analysis of the debtors and sample-selection, as well as pre-population of the working papers. The Surveyor can then spend more time talking to key staff and understanding the prospect’s business and systems, and ensure their recommendations are relevant and will give the customer what they need.

5. Make the Survey part of the sales conversation process

Although the Survey recommendations are essential for credit underwriting, the Surveyor’s time on site is part of the sales conversation. They are product experts, selling the benefits to the prospect and working with them to ensure all key facts are understood and facilities suitably structured from the outset. Above all, they should be as unobtrusive as possible and take up as little of the prospect’s time as possible. Retrieving the information they need in advance will ensure they give a first class customer experience and facilitate a quick decision.

6. Reporting – Avoid repetition, tautology and saying things twice

Readers of the survey report will want to see the conclusions and recommendations clearly and simply laid out. Separate the summary report and conclusions from the working papers. While the test papers should be available, the commentary on each test does not need to be repeated elsewhere. Above all, the report should focus the reader on the key risk areas and recommendations and these should be clearly set out, not lost in the detail.

7. Make it easy for the underwriter

Engage the underwriter early in the process, to gauge appetite and discuss any potential issues. And when the full credit application and survey are complete, make sure the proposal is clear and supported by the survey recommendations and financial analysis. Anticipate questions and set out operational processes and risk management controls that will ensure the facility will run smoothly.

Adare SEC celebrates becoming first communications member of the CSA

A leading provider of technology-led, paper-based and electronic communication solutions is the first communications company to become a member of the Credit Services Association (CSA) under its new Supplier Membership category.

Adare SEC, Secure and Essential Communication Solution specialists, produces around 100 million print and digital communications on behalf of its debt collection and debt purchase clients each year.

Adare SEC has provided Essential Communication solutions to the sector for more than 20 years, introducing several technologies and offering fixed mail pack production pricing and significant postal discounts for its 35 debt collection customers.

To further show Adare SEC’s commitment to the sector, the business has recently been accepted into a new extended category of CSA membership since it was announced in November last year.

Richard Slee, chief executive officer at Adare SEC, said: “Achieving CSA supplier membership status really highlights how we see our business – at the forefront of critical customer communication solutions and continuing to deliver a quality service for our clients and their customers in this industry.

“We are proud to be part of the CSA’s supplier membership alongside being one of the first to sign-up, showing our commitment to the sector as we continue to grow and innovate.”

Peter Wallwork, chief executive of the CSA, said that Supplier Member status would provide Adare SEC with a range of benefits.

He added: “It will afford them even greater visibility of the collections, debt sale and purchase market and in turn gives the CSA’s 300-strong membership greater visibility of a company that can help support their print and digital communications.”

Adare SEC, which has a head office in Huddersfield and other sites across Redditch, Nottingham and Guildford, is an £80 million leading provider of Secure and Essential Communication Solutions for its high-quality blue-chip client base which includes Lowell, Allianz, New Look and HomeServe.