SOUTHEND Council stopped fraudulent coronavirus grants totalling £90,000 being paid out to criminals in the last three months, it has been revealed.

The council’s counter fraud team tackled nine cases of Covid grant-related fraud, amounting to £96,700 in the first quarter of the year.

It stopped £90,000 of the payments being made.

Those responsible can expect prosecution.

Joe Chesterton, executive director for finance and resources, said the Covid-19 grants have provided lifelines to many businesses across the country.

He added: “However, there are instances where individuals try to claim grant money without meeting the criteria, or by giving false information about themselves, the business or the premises.

“Our business rates and internal audit teams work tirelessly and diligently to ensure these vital funds are not distributed incorrectly, meaning our businesses are able to benefit from the funds allocated to the council by the Government. Meanwhile our counter fraud team have also been able to protect the council from national fraud threats, thanks to intelligence sharing across local authorities.”

Mr Chesterton added that anyone found to be attempting to claim fraudulently is assessed by the counter fraud team, and, if necessary, an investigation into any possible criminal activities will take place and a prosecution sought.

The total annual loss to local authorities from fraud is estimated to be £7.8billion. The areas of highest risk to councils include council tax, non-domestic business rates, housing and tenancy fraud, disabled parking (Blue Badge) fraud, adult social care, procurement, grant and employee fraud.

In total, council audit teams and the fraud team have saved taxpayers more than £330,000 this year.

Council tax cheats are being offered the chance to pay fines of £100 to £1,000 or face a court hearing.

A report to councillors said: “This is an efficient and cost-effective way of resolving such cases and we have two cases currently awaiting the offer of a penalty. We anticipate making greater use of this facility as the team develops.”