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conflict of interest

conflict of interest

Would be very interested to hear the views of people in Local Government on this.

My local authority is rather vague when it comes to requiring staff to make declarations in situations where there could be a conflict of interests. We have recently identified a situation in the Benefits Section where there a member of staff had not declared that he was a friend of someone receiving Council tax benefit, and had recommended that an outstanding debt existing should be written off for reasons that have proved to be invalid.

This set us wondering what other Local Authorities do in terms of declaring interests and barring access to specific accounts where there is a declared relationship. My authority currently makes a note in a register, where staff have declared an interest, but there are no clear guidelines.  

Immediate thoughts are that interests should be declared, and lead to barred access, to accounts for benefit recipients and NDR and Council tax payments of family, friends, & neighbours.  

Is this the norm in other local authorities, how is it applied? Any views and tips would be most welcome

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15th Dec 2010 12:15

A sensitive issue

I understand that HMRC have a rule that employees should not access the files of persons known to them socially.  On the other hand police officers will happily deal with cases in which the complainant is known to them (which I think can be inappropriate).

If you are saying that the employee made the recommendation to write off the debt dishonestly (i.e. not believing that the 'reasons' given for it were true) then I think that could be a criminal offence (such as 'misconduct in public office' or 'fraud' contrary to sections 1 & 2 or 4 Fraud Act 2006).  That would be the case whatever rules did, or did not, exist in the particular local authority.

David

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17th Dec 2010 23:28

Conflict of Interest

Although I am not employed by a local authority but by a Housing Association. We have a procedure whereby every employee is required to declare their interests every year, this includes any purchases made from suppliers to the group, any relationship to a tenant and if the employee is a tenant.

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18th Dec 2010 10:27

Perspective..?

Were these “invalid reasons” known by the employee at the time they wrote off the debit or are the “invalid reasons” only invalid with the benefit of hindsight and further evidence? is it just poor judgement?  Could the friend have made false representations to the employee about the inability to pay?

Surely there are lots of employees working in local authorities with friends who claim benefits and in the vast majority of cases, there are no problems. What if an employee doesn’t know if a friend is claiming a benefit (friends are not obliged to make a full disclosure to each other), how would they make a declaration they don’t know they need to? Would employees be expected to comb through lists of claimants checking to see if they recognise names?Where do you draw the line? Do you include only friends that the employee sees every week or do you include friends employees see once a year? Particularly extrovert employees could be banned from dealing with whole villages at a time…Do you start to ask employees to list all friends who use a social service, have children at a particular school, who go to a public library (those late book fines can really mount up!) Sorry to rant, but surely, it’s impossible to have a policy for everything. At what point does common sense apply? This reminds me of an article a few months back… I particularly like the last two words!http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/jeremy_clarkson/article7052392.ece Anway, to answer the original question, one of the local authorities round here asks for private & family business interests to be declared and updated annually.

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18th Dec 2010 13:01

Alleged theft by employee

In the course of my forensic accountancy work I am often instructed by solicitors acting for defendants accused of fraud by employee or theft by employee.

The employer might be a government body, such as HMRC, or a bank or other financial institution, such as the Post Office.

Time and again I see situations in which an employee has dealt with a transaction for a friend or relative and something has gone amiss resulting in a loss to the employer.  When the error comes to light suspicions are aroused because of the employee's connection with the customer and (in the cases I deal with) the upshot has been that the employee is facing a criminal prosecution.

If the employee is honest, then all this trouble could have been avoided quite easily if he had asked a colleague to deal with the transaction, rather than dealing with it himself.  In that event, even if an error had been made, it would not have generated the same suspicion.

So my advice to any employee would be - do not yourself deal with transactions in which your employer's customer is a relative or friend of yours - get a colleague to deal with it for you.

David

www.AccountingEvidence.com

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