The National Fraud Initiative (NFI), overseen by the Cabinet Office, has launched an investigation into council employees engaging in “multiple contract working,” holding down two or more jobs simultaneously, with suspicions raised after staff were caught moonlighting while working from home.

Hybrid working, a practice adopted by many during and after the COVID-19 lockdowns, has reportedly exacerbated the issue, with newfound flexibilities making a second income particularly alluring.

At least three councils, including Wakefield, Enfield, and Kensington and Chelsea, claim to have identified staff members engaging in such deceptive practices.

Counter-fraud officials at these councils presented their findings during annual meetings, revealing instances where employees were fraudulently working full-time for other organisations simultaneously.

The NFI, in collaboration with the London Borough Fraud Investigators Group (LBFIG), launched a pilot scheme in London to assess the extent of this issue, particularly within the context of the hybrid working environment.

The rise of remote work

The rise of home working has not only presented challenges related to multiple contract working but has also led to concerns about its impact on the productivity of the Civil Service. In an effort to address this, senior civil servants have been directed to increase their in-office presence, with new rules stipulating that new starters and existing staff must spend at least 60 percent of their working time in the office.

Every council is responsible for setting its own working regulations, and while most require employees to declare second jobs, the investigation revealed cases where individuals knowingly collected two full-time salaries while working only 50 percent of the time for each role.

Gemma Young, head of internal audit and risk management at Enfield council, noted that remote working had enabled “new types of fraud” and emphasised the need for leadership training to raise awareness about emerging fraudulent practices.

What is ‘moonlighting’?

In a report published in June 2023, Kensington and Chelsea council described “moonlighting” as a “new and emerging fraud type,” attributing its rise to the normalisation of working from home and hybrid working during the pandemic.

The NFI’s pilot project is still in the data collection phase but is actively working with organiations to combat fraud cases. A Cabinet Office spokesman stated, “The National Fraud Initiative matches and compares pieces of data provided by private and public sector organisations to identify fraud cases,” citing £171 million in savings for taxpayers achieved through the initiative’s work last year.

Local councils, including Birmingham city council, are cooperating with the investigation, acknowledging the need for vigilance in the face of evolving fraud risks in the era of remote and hybrid working. The NFI investigation remains unrestricted by working practices, emphasising its commitment to examining fraudulent activities across the board.

 

 

 

 

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.