Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported to Parliament today that he has qualified his audit opinion on the accounts of the Community Fund for 2004-05.
The Community Fund (now operating as the Big Lottery Fund together with the New Opportunities Fund) have reported that, in September 2004 they identified a number of grant applications which contained irregularities (for example, the improper use of false names and addresses) and which may be fraudulent. The Fund’s best estimate of the total grants now “at risk” in this respect across their activities since 1999 is £4.5 million (of which some £770,000 relates to 2004-05). Total grants paid during the same period were some £2,405 million. A further £1.6 million of potential losses have been recorded in other lottery distributors’ financial statements.
The suspected frauds were not detected earlier because the Fund’s systems did not include adequate checks to identify instances where more than one application was being received from the same applicant. Once suspicions had been raised by a member of staff, the Fund involved the police and the Charity Commission and their investigations continue. The Fund has put in place additional controls to combat the risk of fraud from those submitting multiple applications.
The full lessons to be learnt will have to wait for the police and legal processes to be completed but, in his report, Sir John makes interim recommendations for improving control for the future. Recommendations include the need for more explicit consideration to the risks of fraud that may exist within “easy access” programmes.