Herts County Council 'gave fraudster a licence to steal'

August 14, 2013 12:00 AM
By Cllr Paul Zukowskyj
Lorraine Graves, the former Herts County Council social worker who pleaded guilty to stealing tens of thousands of pounds from vulnerable pensioners in her care, took advantage of a system that was simply not fit for purpose.

Until 2011, HCC's system for managing Adult Social Care 'bank accounts' for people having difficulty running their own finances relied on Dickensian era paper-based ledger systems while senior management overview of the system was almost totally non-existent.

A request by a victim for a statement of their account took nearly three months to produce and when it was finally provided it was as a printout of an Excel spreadsheet hurriedly put together by an officer in the council - not a proper statement because the system to produce one simply didn't exist.

Subsequent review uncovered other problems. Cash was delivered for distribution to care recipients in large quantities. A 'petty cash' account in the Adult Care Services department at the council regularly had over £12,000 in cash in a box, available to social workers merely on production of a hand-written 'chit'.

Paul Zukowskyj, County Councillor for Hatfield South and shadow cabinet member for Corporate Issues, who was alerted to the thefts by one of his constituents, commented:
'The county council's systems were not just appallingly bad, they put temptation in front of this social worker because there was really no system to monitor this money at all. She was given carte blanche to do as she liked with tens of thousands of pounds of pensioners' money, with little chance of her theft being uncovered.
'She was only caught when the executor of a victim's will questioned how someone who had been housebound for years through ill health could possibly have gone on a caravanning holiday to the South West of England.'
Paul added:

'HCC have done a great deal to try to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted, including moving on from essentially having Bob Cratchett crouched over a paper ledger, but I have serious doubts about whether they really are taking this as seriously as they should. Their new system is hugely better than the old one, but that's hardly difficult given how appallingly bad the old one was.
'There still appear to be gaps in the new system, and statement requests still don't produce immediate results.
'Further review and scrutiny of all financial systems across the council is needed immediately and it must be done in public and with proper, independent, external assessment. HCC gave Lorraine Graves a licence to steal: the Conservative administration now needs to ensure, and be seen to assure the public, that this can never happen again.