POLICE are investigating whether fraudsters have swindled thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash.
Portsmouth City Council suspects a large number of travel tokens it issued for disabled people were duplicated.
It meant all 3,500 residents who are entitled to 45 tokens a year had to give back any they hadn’t used in return for new versions.
Like the old tokens, they entitle people to £45 worth of travel on buses, Wightlink Ferry services and taxis during the 12 months.
They are then returned to the council by travel companies, which are reimbursed by the authority.
Hampshire Constabulary was called in after faults were detected in a ‘significant’ amount of tokens collected by the council after use.
Michael Lawther, the council’s city solicitor, said: ‘We give travel tokens to eligible residents with disabilities if they prefer to use them instead of a bus pass.
‘We discovered discrepancies with the travel tokens previously in circulation and referred the matter to police for investigation last month.
‘We wrote to residents who use the tokens and asked them to return them to council offices. When they returned them, we gave them new tokens to the same value, which will work in the same way as the old ones.
‘The changeover worked well and the new tokens are being used.’
Councillor Jason Fazackarley, cabinet member for traffic and transport, believed someone had been producing similar copies.
‘Someone has produced them somewhere – we just don’t know where,’ he said. ‘It relates to a significant number.
‘It’s a scam. These are meant to be disabled tokens for disabled people.
‘I’m not surprised that people try to take advantage because unfortunately that’s the world we live in.
‘People have exploited the disabled and the local authority. Local authorities are struggling at the moment.
‘This sort of thing happening takes money away which could be used to help local services.
‘We took action as quickly as we could.’
A Hampshire Constabulary spokesman said: ‘Police can confirm they received information relating to travel tokens issued by Portsmouth City Council.
‘Initial enquiries are being carried out to establish whether there is evidence to suggest a criminal offence could have been committed.’