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Audit finds expenses claimed by Craven district councillors breached rules
10:00am Thursday 9th January 2014 in News
An internal audit on expenses claimed by Craven district councillors has revealed breaches of customs and revenue rules.
Un-named councillors have claimed petrol expenses on out-of-date driving licences and when their insurance policy did not cover council business.
Claims were submitted covering several months, instead of on a monthly basis as required, and one councillor was reimbursed £15.50 for three bottles of beer – despite the council’s policy of not reimbursing the cost of alcoholic drinks, the report has revealed.
The report, discussed at Monday’s audit and governance committee, further raised the issue of a councillor claiming £44.22 for a train fare, which on investigation turned out to be cost of the fare, £20.80, plus the time of the return train – 23.42.
“Clearly, this is incorrect and the councillor must be asked to repay the £23.42 back to the council,” said the report.
The report, which made several recommendations to tighten up procedures, suggested that the councillor with an out-of-date driving licence on file may have a valid licence, but the council was unaware of it.
He had, however, been reimbursed for 1,600 miles after the licence had expired.
A total of four councillors had failed to submit details of their driving licence and business insurance when requested, but had continued to receive mileage payments from the council.
This was despite an annual e-mail requesting details of valid car insurance confirming business use and a current driving licence.
“There appears to be a general reluctance to either challenge or refuse any councillor’s claim that is received,” said the report.
It concluded that “the council is currently breaching HMRC’s rules relating to the VAT treatment of fuel when used in private vehicles”.
Martin Helm, internal auditor, told councillors the amounts of money were small and there had been no evidence of fraud.
“It is important to make this right because of transparency and also because public money is involved,” he said.
Coun Graham Beck (Ind) called for immediate action on areas such as sending back improperly-completed claims forms and where councillors were claiming without a valid driving licence.
He also called for an immediate review to be carried out on officers’ and staff expenses – although that was defeated in a vote and will now be carried out in the next financial year.
Coun Philip Barrett (Ind) pointed out that the public perception would be that all councillors were making mistakes, when in reality in was a small number and only 12 out of 30 members of the council claimed any expenses at all.
Between April and November last year, £6,252 was reimbursed to 12 councillors for mileage and subsistence claims, compared to £6,422 paid to 16 councillors for the whole financial year of 2012/13.
After the meeting, a council spokesman said the purpose of the report was “to highlight any potential risks and suggest improvements”, and “a number of recommendations for improvement” will be implemented.
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