Posts Tagged ‘New Deal For Disabled People’

From 2012: Private Eye on Fraud by Workfare Company

January 21, 2015

This Sunday, 18th January, I reposted an article from Glynis Millward’s blog, reporting the trial and conviction of several A4E employees for fraud. They had been falsifying the numbers of unemployed people the company had helped back into work, in order to get money under the government’s ‘payment by results’ scheme. Although noteworthy, it wasn’t the first time a workfare company had committed such fraud. Johnny Void has also blogged about similar abuse of the system by the workfare companies. And three years ago, Private Eye reported a similar case of what may have been fraud by Working Links in their edition for the 18th -31st May 2012. The article ran:

Workfare
The Links Effect

“Benefit-busting contractor” contractor Working Links tried to claim government cash for helping people into work when the “clients” couldn’t be traced, were still receiving Jobseekers Allowance or were actually helped by rival “workfare” companies.

The company also made several duplicate claims, asking to be paid twice for helping the same person, according to internal papers passed to the Eye. The documents, which cover Working Links’ £5m-plus contract for work on the New Deal for Disabled People in 2007-8, were found in a disused desk on a rubbish tip.

Working Links, one of the UK’s largest “benefit-busters”, had contracts to encourage incapacity benefit claimants back into work through coaching, interview advice and other “job club” activities. It was paid around £300 for each unemployed “client” and received bonuses of more than £1,000 for each one getting a part-time job and nearly £3,000 if they found full-time work.

The files include monthly invoices from Working Links to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ranging from £400,000 to £1m. The DWP rejected up to £20,000 a time on many invoices because of multiple errors. The DWP did not investigate the false claims nor treat them as fraud, and the files do not show these were deliberate errors. However, they do show that Working Links was more enthusiastic about claiming cash from the government than it was about keeping accurate records. Separately, DWP “compliance visits” have found systematic overclaiming in some Working Links offices. (See Eye 1311).

Overclaiming appears rife among workfare contractors. Emails between the DWP and the National Audit Office obtained under freedom of information by the Eye show that “benefit-busting” firms made more than 10,000 false claims on the “New Deal” employment scheme in 2010-11. In the emails, the DWP told the auditors about failures in checking that claimants the contractors claimed to have helped had actually signed off benefits. The DWP describes “30 percent failing the check and around 10 percent ultimately unvalidated”.

A third of claims by contractors are initially questioned. Most are cleared up, but the remaining 10 percent are false. The DWP found that of 104,767 invoices from New Deal contractors, 10,462 failed the off-benefit check and remain “unpaid”. This means that companies like Working Links and the giant A4E asked for to £30m they were not due. The DWP did not pay the cash, but the fact that it did not investigate the false claims further shows a liberal attitude to the contractors.

Working Links, part-owned by temp agency Manpower and consultant CapGemini, has many other government contracts, including £300m for running the new Work Programme in Wales, Scotland and the South West.

This is a shocking statistic, but it isn’t really surprising. I posted up another piece by Private Eye yesterday reporting on the conclusions of the NAO several years ago that the welfare-to-work scheme would fail, and would need bailing out. Moreover, as Johnny Void has repeatedly blogged, the workfare system is so flawed that you are far more likely to get a job through your own efforts than from one of the workfare companies.

The entire scheme is set up to encourage fraud, and based on the exploitation of the unpaid labour of the jobless themselves. It should be totally discontinued.

From 2012: Investigation into Fraud and Poor Performance at A4E

April 9, 2014

This comes from Private Eye for the 23rd March – 5th April 2012.

Welfare To Work

Targets Practice

Dismal results from Welfare-to-work firm A4e have not stopped it earning hundreds of millions from the taxpayer. But now an investigation into fraud at the company may achieve what mere incompetence could not.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has launched an immediate audit and says it will terminate its commercial relationship with the firm if it finds “evidence of systemic fraud in DWP’s contracts with A4e”.

There is no shortage of material. The DWP investigation itself was prompted by an allegation of attempted fraud in an A4e contract to deliver “Mandatory Work Activity” – compulsory work placements arranged by A4e. Meanswhile, a member of staff running a government scheme in Hull was found guilty of fraud last year, and four former members of staff in its Slough office are currently being investigated for fraud on “benefit-busting” contracts. The DWP’s internal auditors have already investigate the firm four times, though without finding wrongdoing that amounted to fraud.

A common theme is that A4e staff are alleged to have made false claims about finding jobs or work placements for the unemployed. A4e blamed its staff, claiming that it too was a victim of the frauds or alleged frauds. But in 2010, when MPs on the work and pensions select committee investigated fraud and misbehaviour by A4e and other contractors, the firm admitted that its bonus system was at fault. Staff were paid to meet targets on getting people into work, a system that A4e said in its submission to MPs “may have been a driver for individual malpractice”. In short, A4e admits that its own bonus system encouraged some staff to fiddle the figures.

A4e executive Bob Murdoch told MPs the problem was solved by moving to group bonuses “as a safeguard against individuals making fraudulent job outcome claims”. No such luck: some of the false claims appear to have involved groups of A4e staff.

* Despite its travails, a4e always comes out fighting – even when that means taking credit for work it didn’t do.

When MPs on the public accounts committee criticised its performance of Pathways to Work, a jobs scheme for disabled people, the firm put a statement on its website deriding the “completely false premise” of the MPs’ attacks. it even quoted a DWP report that “indicates a return to the Treasury – and therefore the taxpayer – of over £3 for every £1 invested in the Pathways to Work programme referred to by the PAC”.

Alas, the report was not describing A4e’s own work, but that done by JobCentre staff who used to run the scheme in 2003-4 before being replaced by A4e and other contractors. In fact, a 2010 National Audit Office report into Pathways to Work as run by A4e and others found the scheme had delivered “poor value for money”. Still worse, JobCentres had “performed better”!

* Ever ready with an aggressive defence, nor does A4e like it when benefit-claiming clients try to stick up for themselves.

In Scotland, A4e refused to see a claimant, “Peter”, who wanted to attend meetings with a volunteer from ECAP, the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. Since “Peter’s” benefit had been stopped several times, with police being called to throw him out of A4e’s offices on one occasion, a judge at the Social Security Tribunal Hearing ruled in his favour saying he had “good cause” to be accompanied.

Another claimant, “Ram”, was refused entry when he tried to attend an A4e Work Programme appointment with an ECAP member. A4e started a “sanction” that stopped his benefits, but Ram appealed and won. The DWP reinstated his benefits, apologised and gave him a £50 “payment for gross inconvenience resulting from persistent error”.

And this is the firm entrusted by taxpayers with £400m in contracts…

* Why the Skills Funding Agency saw fit to award A4e contracts to provide prison education in London and the South East, as confirmed last week, is a mystery given its pisspoor record at Darmoor prison.

The latest Ofsted report, released last month after an inspection in December, scored overall education and training, provided jointly by A4e and Strode College, as inadequate with inadequate capacity to improve. Leadership was also rated inadequate, and under the heading “strengths”, there were, er, “no key strengths identified”.

The next most recent Ofsted report into prison education run by A4e, covering a 2011 visit to Suffolk’s Blundeston prison, also found inadequate provision and criticised both the lack of organisation and lack of staff trained ot help those with specific learning difficulties or needs. The supposedly business-friendly firm also had “too few links with local employers”.

As Eye 1212 said when A4e quite providing prison education in Kent in 2008, because it wasn’t making money on the deal, and was immediately hired to run a New Deal for Disabled People scheme in Glasgow: “Nothing succeeds like failure, eh?”

In short, A4e are either institutionally corrupt, or are massively incompetent with a bonus system that encourages fraud and corruption. They are inefficient compared to the public sector workers in the Civil Service, who the government wishes to phase out of the system leaving it entirely in the hands of the private contractors. They steal the credit for other people’s good work, bully claimants and provide a lamentably poor service for educating crims in prison.

And even if they weren’t any of that, they would still deserve contempt and disapproval simply for administering the government’s workfare schemes, which are a highly exploitative form of unfree labour. And the Void has pointed out with regard to these schemes, they don’t work either. You’re far better off trying to find a job on your own.

So of course, with this magnificent record of compassion and quality of service, the government has to continue giving them contracts.

A4e is proof that IDS’ benefit reforms are purely ideological, and not supported by performance or results. Both A4e and their ultimate boss, IDS himself, should go.