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pounds 15m of scams exposed in purge.

A MAJOR fraud crackdown has revealed scams and errors costing taxpayers pounds 15million.

Public spending watchdogs found fraudulent benefit claims cost councils pounds 6million last year.

And they discovered public sector bodies were set to squander a further pounds 9million in wrongly claimed pension payments to former employees.

The shock figures were unearthed by the National Fraud Initiative, which is run by spending watchdogs Audit Scotland.

It targeted council and health service workers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, students and failed asylum seekers.

And it revealed a catalogue of scams and errors costing taxpayers millions.

The probe found that occupational pensions were being paid to 270 deceased ex-employees, while benefits were being claimed fraudulently or in error by 564 public sector workers.

Housing benefit was being overpaid to 215 students and benefits were being overpaid to two failed asylum seekers.

The crackdown has resulted in 53 prosecutions or reports to the fiscal, and 32 public employees have been sacked or disciplined.

Audit Scotland's Russell Frith said: "With more than 50 people facing possible prosecution, we hope the exercise will also act to deter future fraud."

Edinburgh unearthed pounds 342,000 in pension losses alone while Glasgow found it was overpaying housing benefit by pounds 1.7million.

Aberdeen found it was losing pounds 317,000 through benefit claims.

Pat Watters, of COSLA, said: "As in any business, there is, unfortunately, some abuse of the system at the margins and all councils are determined to eradicate fraudulent claims."

SNP finance spokesman John Swinney MSP said: "I welcome the fact that we have caught up with this fraud.

"But it is a scandal that pounds 15mil-lion of fraud has been allowed to happen in the first place."

CAPTION(S):

SCANDAL: Swinney
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 17, 2006
Words:287
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