Covid-19: Financial controls in schools and academy trusts

Published by Phil Reynolds on 20 March 2020

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Control and oversight of public money is always crucial, but it has probably never been so crucial – at least not in our lifetime. In addition, this is a time where your usual systems and capacity are stretched even further so cracks may appear.

It is vital that the operation of key controls is maintained.

There is no doubt that, providing you have the technology and resource, you will have many people working remotely. Whilst this can be effective, it will also bring its own risks.

Prime examples are payment authorisations, approval of new members of staff on the payroll or new suppliers on the purchase ledger. No doubt many of these requests will come via email or other methods. This will in turn increase the risk of fraud – we have already seen many scams linked to Covid-19 already as people look to take advantage of those who are vulnerable. Fraud can also arise simply due to human error.

Therefore, it is vital you look to maintain your usual processes and checks over such requests. Do challenge.

Top tips:

  • Continue to operate your existing control procedures were possible
  • If you do have to break from the norm, ensure there is segregation of approval and a second person authorising
  • If it cannot be done electronically, look to maintain a log of such approvals and when normality resumes you can update your records accordingly

As mentioned above, there is absolutely no doubt there will come a time where existing controls or procedures will be set aside to “get the job done”. Routine tasks might be forgotten or fall in the “to do” pile. Shortage of staff will also be a factor. But where there are key potential areas of risk these should still be properly mitigated with the appropriate controls.

In addition, be mindful of where you have staff going the extra mile – they may become exhausted and over-worked. This will also increase the risk of controls and procedures weakening. But controls are there to protect staff and these in turn will protect those impacted by your utilisation of public money. So please do continue to use them, now more than ever.

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