Councils and public services are reporting a major increase in in fraud in the West Midlands.

Authorities reported losses of £15.1 million in 2010-11, up from £12.9 million last year.

And they detected 8,700 cases of fraud, up from 8,300.

The Audit Commission, which published the figures, hailed the increase as an improvement, saying councils were becoming more successful in detecting and investigating fraud cases.

But it also warned that “only a small proportion” of fraud was being detected.

One of the most common forms of raid involved housing, including tenants who used false information to gain a home, who “inherited” a home from a former tenant without permission or who sublet a home to someone else.

Councils in the West Midlands recovered 101 properties from tenants involved in fraud last year, up from just six the year before.

This was partly because of the use of specialist investigators, the Audit Commission said.

The watchdog said in a report: “Some councils outside London have shown what specialist fraud investigators can achieve by tackling tenancy fraud. Wolverhampton City Council recovered 57 properties in 2010/11 (four reported in 2009/10).”

Other common forms of fraud included claiming a council tax discount by reporting there was only one adult in a house when two or more actually lived there; claiming funding for adult social care when care was not needed, and collusion between council officials and businesses offering to provide goods or services during the procurement process.

Across the country, England’s councils succeeded in detecting £185 million worth of fraud in 2010--11, an improvement of 37 per cent on last year’s figure of £135 million. A total of 121,000 scams were detected.

Michael O’Higgins, Chairman of the Audit Commission, said: “Councils are certainly acting on fraud, and it is now firmly on the government agenda. But our latest survey of detection rates shows that we may be seeing just the tip of a very large iceberg.”

He added: “‘We are all victims of fraud against councils. It is heartening to see councils making inroads, and improving detection rates in areas like council tax discounts. But they need to do more to tackle housing tenancy and procurement frauds.

“Huge amounts of public money are still being diverted from the public purse into fraudsters’ pockets. National figures suggest that over £2 billion a year is lost to councils by fraudsters, so it is clear that only a small proportion of frauds are being detected.”

Large councils aren’t the only victims of fraud. The Audit Commission report, called Protecting the Public Purse, highlights the case of one parish clerk who pleaded guilty to stealing almost £63,000 from four parish councils and a community project charity that employed her.

It said: “The clerk forged signatures, altered cheques, and made unauthorised payments to herself and her family.”