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Welsh Local Authority

Using IDEA to verify COVID-19 related payments from a Local Authority

In order to limit the economic damage of sector-wide forced closures during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the UK government introduced a number of initiatives designed to assist taxpayers in a variety of ways. With only a few exceptions, responsibility for ensuring these initiatives have been operated properly and fully audited has fallen on Local Authorities nationwide. Here in Wales, we’ve been using IDEA to verify claimants for a number of these initiatives, including Free School Meal, self-isolation Payments, and checking for duplicate payments for NDR sector-specific payments.

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Free School Meals

In mid-2020 the preexisting Free School Meals programme (“FSM”) was expanded to include all infant pupils and any pupil who meet the benefits-related free school meals eligibility criteria. In order to ensure that only eligible claimants received FSM payments, Internal Audit was specifically tasked with using IDEA to verify the eligibility of all FMS applications.

Initially–at the beginning of the pandemic–all eligible families received food parcels, which were eventually replaced with FSM payments to most families. There was an application process and using Firmware, reports were generated to list those due payments. Unfortunately, these reports were not always thoroughly cleaned before being sent over to IA, with fields often containing a mixture of upper and lower case characters, and some fields were irregular (e.g. sort code with spaces/sort code without spaces).

Using IDEA, it was easy to address these issues by stripping out spaces and ensuring any new fields were upper case only (IDEA functions listed below). Duplicates were then run on the following criteria to produce 3 reports for checking, which were passed along to the appropriate department:

  • Name (stripped and upper case)
    @strip(@upper(NAME))
  • Address (stripped and upper case)
    @strip(@upper(ADDRESS))
  • Bank Account Number and sort code (combined in IDEA)
    Append together and add a new field with formula. Example: BANK_ACCOUNT_NUMBER + SORT_CODE

After the first run, reports were produced by the appropriate department of the valid duplicates (those that will be expected in future) and returned to IA. These files were then matched in IDEA with the consolidated file duplicates to produce a report of ‘New Duplicates’.

The duplicate checker usually utilised on our Payments system was not able to be relied on due to the method of input of FSM payments into the Payment system.

Following the success of the identification of duplicates before FSM payments were made, Internal Audit was then asked to assist with the checking of and the self-isolation payments and the NDR Sector-Specific payments.

Self-isolation Payments and NDR sector-specific payments

Claimants of self-isolation payments are entitled to up to three payments if they meet the eligibility criteria: two for self-isolating and a third if contacted by TPP.

As with the FSM payments file, Internal Audit was tasked with using IDEA to verify the authenticity of each claim. To do this, we checked for the following duplicates:-

  • National Insurance number (changed to upper case)
  • Bank Account number
  • Address (an amalgamation of four separate fields, stripped and upper case)
  • Name (stripped and upper case)

The generated reports were then returned to the appropriate department for further investigation and enforcement as necessary, with subsequent reports of expected duplicates provided again being matched in IDEA.

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About the author

Lya is a qualified CISA Computer Auditor with 20 years’ experience in Computer Auditing. She has been a Local Government officer for 30 + years, twenty-five of which have been in Internal Audit (first as an Audit Technician, then Computer / Senior Auditor) and she has been using IDEA Data Analysis throughout this time. She undertakes all aspects of IT Audit (and other Departmental Internal Audits) and utilises IDEA wherever possible to assist.

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