The Home Office has made next to no progress in tackling criminal fraud during the past five years, despite it having become Britain’s most prevalent crime, government auditors warn today.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said that fewer than one in two hundred cases of fraud reported to the police resulted in a criminal charge last year and forces dedicated only 1 per cent of personnel to tackling the issue. Fraud costs victims £4.7 billion a year.
The NAO added that although the number of cases of reported fraud had risen from 631,000 in 2017 to 987,000 this year, the number of criminal charges fell from 6,400 to 4,816.
The NAO accused the Home Office of having failed to take the issue seriously enough. It said it had warned five years ago that fraud was being overlooked by the government and demanded an urgent response. Since then the threat had “increased and evolved” but the government’s response had not.
The NAO said that there were “significant gaps in the Home Office’s understanding of the threat” from fraud and there was no clear strategy to tackle it.
It also found that the Home Office did not have a complete picture of what was being spent on tackling fraud by businesses or the public sector nor of how effective that spending was.
The NAO called on the department to lead a “vigorous” cross-government effort to establish what worked and said that it should complete and publish its anti-fraud strategy as soon as possible. Dame Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the public accounts committee, said: “I am concerned that the Home Office still hasn’t set out a clear funded plan for how it will tackle it. The 3.1 million victims of fraud deserve action, leadership and a plan that galvanises partners across government, not more words on a page.”
The NAO found that fraud made up 41 per cent of crime in England and Wales in the year to June 2022 and that 6.6 per cent of people aged over 16 said that they had been the victims of actual or attempted fraud. Bank and credit card fraud were still the most common type. Incidents of advance fee fraud, where victims are encouraged to make upfront payments for non-existent goods or services, increased by nearly 700 per cent between March 2017 and June 2022.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said that five years on from its last report the Home Office had taken “limited action to improve its response to fraud”. He added: “Its approach has lacked clarity of purpose, it does not have the data it needs to understand the full scale of the problem and it is not able to accurately measure the impact of its policies. For its planned fraud strategy to succeed the Home Office must be vigorous in leading a cross-government response that is informed by a thorough understanding of what works in combating fraud.”
Rocio Concha, director of policy at the consumer group Which?, said the UK was in the grip of a fraud epidemic that took a devastating toll on the lives of victims. “The lack of an effective joined-up approach between the government, banks, tech firms and telecoms companies is holding back efforts to prevent fraud.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, added: “It’s just not good enough and while dangerous scammers are let off the hook it is victims who continue to pay the price. Action to sort this out is long overdue.”