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UK officials cite ‘heightened scrutiny’ as cost of aid fraud breaks £1m barriers

Data shows that Britain lost 40% more money through fraud in its overseas aid programmes in 2015-16 compared with the previous year, with the rise attributed to better reporting of its misappropriated funds, according to government officials.

The UK government, which has stuck to a pledge to spend 0.7% of gross domestic product on foreign aid, has come under increasing scrutiny over how it spends its multi-billion pound budget, which some MPs say would be better spent at home.

Data released by Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) revealed that the cost of fraud was £1.04m in 2015-16, compared with £749,000 the previous year, a rise of more than 38%.

DfID, which operates predominantly through partner organisations including charities, private companies and UN agencies, said the rise was due to “heightened scrutiny” by the department.

“Changes to the figures … are underpinned by increased work to improve the culture of awareness raising and reporting among staff and partners,” said a DfID spokesman.

UK officials cite 'heightened scrutiny' as cost of aid fraud breaks £1m barriers
UK officials cite ‘heightened scrutiny’ as cost of aid fraud breaks £1m barriers

But the data, obtained by the Thomson Reuters Foundation through a freedom of information request, showed that while the cost of fraud has risen, the number of recorded cases has fallen.

Of nearly 400 investigations into reports of fraud in 2015-16, only 69 turned out to be proven cases, down from 91 cases the previous year.

Five cases of fraud were discovered between January and August 2016, the data showed. No further information was given about the nature of cases.

“We actively investigated and acted upon all suspicions and allegations of fraud, corruption and abuse of DfID resources in 2015-16,” the spokesman said.

Two years ago, DfID was criticised by a government ombudsman for its performance in tackling corruption in several countries in which it works.

Last year, DfID spent nearly £10bn pounds on overseas development, according to its 2015-16 annual report (pdf).

It lists among its achievements supporting 69.5 million people, including 36.4 million women, to gain access to financial services to help lift them out of poverty.

The 2,800-person-strong department has a “zero tolerance” approach to fraud and corruption and “actively investigates” all suspicions and allegations of fraud, corruption and abuse of DfID resources, its spokesman said in a statement.

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