October 20, 2012
Don Peat , Jenny Yuen
TORONTO – City officials can’t investigate all the fraud complaints reported in Toronto, Auditor General Jeffrey Griffiths said last week.
Griffiths insisted his investigators “do a damn good job” with the resources they have, but added lots of fraud cases are falling through the cracks.
A report from the A-G’s office going to the city’s audit committee next Thursday finds 1,539 people holding business licences from the city – including 759 cabbies, 104 strippers, 170 holistic practitioners and 32 buskers – collected around $20 million in welfare payments while claiming they had zero income between January 2010 and December 2011.
“That didn’t come through the fraud and waste hotline, but it’s work we did,” Griffiths said. “We’ve identified it as a problem. I’m not going to deal with it because I don’t have the resources to look at each one of those 1,500 and it’s not my job. Managers should be managing.”
The A-G’s fraud and waste hotline received 822 complaints last year – up 44% from 2010 – however, Griffiths doesn’t know how many of those are related to welfare fraud.
When a complaint comes in, Griffiths said his office will tell the appropriate manager that there’s a problem and they need to fix it right away. The manager then has to report back to the A-G in a month’s time with a progress report.
“If it’s appropriate, we’ll close the file,” he said. “If it’s not, we’ll go back to management and say we’re unhappy with how they dealt with it and to take another look.”
In the case of the cabbies, the social services department would likely be handling any possible fraud.
“Basically, what we’ll do, as we do for every audit we do, we’ll go back in 12 months time to ensure the issue we’ve identified has been addressed,” Griffiths said. “If there’s a complaint that we view as more serious. We will do our own investigation. It’s just professional judgment as what we view as being important.”
Griffiths said there is some level of self-auditing that goes on in the welfare office, but there could be more.
“Management is always responsible,” he said. “It’s their role to deal with any issues that have been identified. I’m sure the province has an interest because
While the report notes holding a business licence doesn’t guarantee someone is receiving additional income, it argues it is a factor that should be considered by Toronto Employment and Social Services when reviewing eligibility and employment service planning.
“TESS has a wide variety of investigation techniques that range from interviewing the client, to third party verification and review of financial documentation,” said city spokesman Deborah Blackstone. “In cases where an allegation is found to be true, a variety of actions may be taken including recouping the overpayment and referral for civil or criminal action.”
Councillor Josh Matlow — a member of the audit committee — said there should be a clear to path to verify whether or not someone holding a business license should be collecting Ontario Works.
“What will be interesting to hear at the audit committee is how widespread fraudulent claims have been related to this,” Matlow said. “Why weren’t these actions taken before? They seem not only like reasonable recommendations, they seem to be obvious things to do.”
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