Does the DWP have a case to answer in Access to Work fraud?

Nicky EvansNicky Evans is a BSL/English interpreter and the co-founder of the Stop Changes to Access to Work campaign (www.stopchanges2atw.com). The campaign was established in November 2013 to oppose cuts being made to the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme which provides the support Deaf and disabled workers need to access employment. 

Does the DWP have a case to answer in Access to Work fraud?

Before we get into it, I’d like to make one thing very clear: I do not condone fraud. It is wrong and the people involved must be held accountable for this and brought to justice.

But what of the DWP’s role in all this?

Here is a system that isn’t accessible (to an extent that the end customer (the Deaf Access to Work user) can’t always understand the forms and needs support completing these), relies heavily on the customer to do the bulk of the administration and where any contact with the DWP has become so stressful that they feel unable to ask for support or advice when needed.

Having been involved in Access to Work campaigning in various guises over the years, I have been continually frustrated by the DWP’s lack of response to our concerns over fraud. I have attended meetings over the past three years with various senior DWP staff/Ministers and have fed back the concerns of both the deaf community and interpreters. Information being provided by advisors is continually inconsistent and interpreters who work for three different clients could be paid using three different processes.

Three years on and several fraud cases later the claim system has seen little or no improvement. 

Interpreters have asked continually for improvements to be made to the DWP’s finance system: our remittance notice often doesn’t arrive (it is still usually sent by post) so we can’t check amounts received or know which clients these relate to; a remittance notice often doesn’t record our invoice numbers; and we can’t speak to AtW to sort any of these issues out (as we are told we have to go through the deaf person – adding to their stress and workload).

Only this year I have been overpaid by a large amount of money and have spent the past two months trying to return this – to no avail. I am not the only interpreter to be overpaid. Interpreters are regularly overpaid, underpaid, part paid, not paid at all, owed late payment fees (which despite being a statutory entitlement, the DWP don’t seem to think it applies to them)… I could go on….

All this raises the question: what role has the DWP had in recent fraud cases? 

There has been a failure to respond to concerns or develop tighter financial controls as a result of these. As I said at the beginning, I do not condone fraud, but I do feel that the DWP must accept some responsibility for this. Systems so open to abuse following several cases of fraud have remained wide open. For a government who continually tell us there is a need for austerity and to balance the books, they should perhaps start by examining their own internal processes.

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Agencies behaving oddly? Contract negotiations are under way

emails on laptopInterpreters… How do you know a large new government contract is in the process of being tendered and awarded?

Answer: Those weird emails from agencies offering new services, asking you to fill out a survey or asking you to confirm you want to stay on their books i.e. bump up the numbers of their suppliers (you) even though it’s possible you never registered with them in the first place.

What examples have we seen recently?

Sign Solutions put out a survey of freelancers about their fees and terms and conditions. They’ll have been tendering for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) second generation contract and the National Framework by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS). Let’s hope they do not get either as a contender for worst ‘BSL specialist’ agency, who have tendered for contracts below which interpreters are willing to work. This has resulted in boycotts. Which have worked.

Pearl Linguistics and The Big Word have created some wonderful 10 minute online CPD courses on subjects such as safe guarding. Clearly a tick box exercise designed to fulfil some contract specification. If only government departments would listen to organisations like NUBSLI, NUPIT and PI4J when they’ve told them that CPD is individual to the interpreter and fees must be commensurate to enable the interpreter to source good quality CPD according to their individual needs. Makes a mockery of safe guarding procedures, doesn’t it?

Wales Council for the Deaf, (I can’t comment on their services as I do not know), suddenly emailed those in the South East and South West last year to see if interpreters would register with them. Why? Despite protests from NUBSLI, the Crown Commercial Service refused to change their regional contract structure into one that was more reflective of geographical areas and market conditions and lumped in Wales with the whole of the South of England. As a result Welsh providers were chasing interpreters in Kent.

Last year, Capita were fishing around via their various subsidiaries to see if interpreters would work for one hour for Access to Work users. Alledgely Action on Hearing Loss have been quoting for blocks of one hour. They already hold DWP contracts despite advising the DWP via UKCoD and other meetings. Separation of supply and advice? Not with these organisations. These queries will be coming from the DWP who is considering its options. National Framework or bust for Access to Work then.

All those requests for ID even though you are registered and have already provided these? The contract will state a requirement for a BPPS (Baseline Personnel Security Standard) check. Ever more bureaucratic hoops for interpreters to jump through.

So if you receive any strange requests, you can bet there’s an agency chasing some public sector business and seeing how much it can get away with before it sticks in a low tender and screws its suppliers: us.

Be careful how you reply, get behind your union, (NUBSLI or NUPIT), and get ready to stand strong.

The announcement of suppliers for the National Framework will be out later this month for an April start and is open to most public authorities in the UK. The MoJ contract notice is also due in March for start in October 2016 when the cuurent contract expires.

Further reading:

Letter from DWP on the privatisation of Access to Work

If you missed the news in the Mirror and the Stop Changes campaign letter… it’s worth catching up here and this is the response from DWP…

STOP CHANGES TO ACCESS TO WORK

You may remember our letter which we sent to DWP in response to the article in the Mirror last week about the privitisation of Access to Work. See our post here: http://stopchanges2atw.com/2016/02/04/privatisation-of-atw-letter-to-mr-duncan-smith/

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you for your email of 4 February to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, concerning Access to Work.

I hope that you will understand that Government Ministers receive a large volume of correspondence and are unable to reply personally on every occasion. I have therefore been asked to respond and I hope that the following is helpful.

On behalf of this Department, I would like to confirm that no decisions have been made on the future delivery model of Access to Work and there are no current plans to privatise the service.

The Autumn Spending Review settlement awarded Access to Work with a real-terms increase in resources and…

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Why NUBSLI are marching at the Stop Changes to Access to Work march

posted originally by NUBSLI | 4 September 2015 on The Nub.

The Stop Changes To Access To Work campaign has always been a collaboration between Deaf and Disabled people and BSL/English interpreters. Very early on, the government’s rhetoric strongly indicated a desire to create a divide between the Deaf community and interpreters (e.g. by grossly overstating the earnings of interpreters). It was partly a response to this situation that instigated the inception of NUBSLI, with an acute awareness that alongside the Deaf community BSL/English interpreters would be targeted by the DWP.

DWP cap on AtW is unnecessary

It is our view that the proposed cap on Access to Work funding serves to further the attempt to divide interpreters and Deaf people, whilst at the same time re-establishing a glass ceiling in the work-place, the very same ceiling that the introduction of Access to Work helped to remove. The cap is a supposed solution to a problem which we believe does not exist.

Two years after the initial requests were made, the government have yet to provide any information on the Return on Investment (ROI) for the Access to Work scheme. They refute the Sayce report figures, which indicated a £1.48 return for every £1 spent, despite having accepted this report and its findings, which they had commissioned.

NUBSLI

NUBSLI continues to work closely with StopChanges, DeafATW, DPAC, Graeae Theatre Company, Inclusion London, Unite the Union and many other campaign groups, and see these relationships as vital in this climate of cuts.

Our aim is to safeguard our profession and the services that our friends, family and colleagues in the Deaf community access. That is why we will be marching on the 26th September and hope you will join us.

Stop Changes to AtW march details

The Department of Work & Pensions’ Access to Work scheme is supposed to make sure that Deaf and disabled people are able to work on an equal basis to non-disabled people.

But…they are cutting our access so we are losing our jobs and finding it even harder to find new ones.

We want to work and have careers but the Government won’t let us.

When

Saturday 26 September 2015

Meet at 12.00pm 

March begins at 1.00pm, marching to Downing Street to deliver petition.

Where

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, SW1A 0AA

Stop Changes march – poster and web flyer available! 

The excellent Stop Changes 2 Access to Work campaign goes from strength to strength. You MUST join the march on Saturday 26th September.

STOP CHANGES TO ACCESS TO WORK

You may have seen our amazing flyer, created by the wonderful David Ziggy Greene who is Private Eye’s resident cartoonist. Please feel free to circulate this.

Our “March with us” page has a poster version for you to download and print and another smaller version for use on the web.

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Round up…

I’ve barely blogged since the election. The challenges the sign language interpreting profession are facing in the UK are huge. What does this mean if this is happening to a small niche profession such as ours? 

  • The very existence of our profession is under threat.
  • So to other professions who serve the Deaf community e.g lipspeakers.
  • Deaf people are being affected too in every area of life.
  • The challenges we all face fit into the sweeping blanket changes happening to the disabled community whose equality, independence and dignity are being dug away in droves.

What happened? We got a Tory right wing government with no coalition partners to temper them. Forget the 12 MP majority in the House. That didn’t stop them when they put out an Equality Impact Assessment notice announcing Access to Work cuts hours after the election result was announced in May. See the excellent Stop Changes campaign blog for your round up on all things Access to Work related. And make sure you watch the TedX talk by Jenny Sealey for a moving summary of exactly how Deaf and disabled people are being affected by the cuts.

What else? The independent living fund has been scrapped for severely disabled people  despite the high court declaring this illegal. Supposedly funds have been transferred to local councils though a series of freedom of information requests show that many don’t know about it. Two weeks ago we saw DPAC protestors storm the House of Commons which gained great media coverage. Anyone who isn’t sure of exactly what these cuts are going to mean should watch Liz Carr’s speech at the People’s Assembly demo. The government won’t want you to be thinking about incontinence pads and people sitting in their own wee waiting for someone to show up when more budgets cuts are announced on Wednesday 8th July.

NUBSLI has been working hard making representations to various government departments and framework providers who want to see us paid the least amount possible yet still provide a ‘quality service’. This a government who does not believe in professions, independent regulation or quality. Just cost. If it did then the weighting for awarding contracts to private companies would be 100 quality/0 cost or something closer to that than the 40/60 for the first MoJ framework which brought us the disastrous Applied Language Solutions. This allowed a route in for Capita to try and take over a market it has little understanding of and certainly no duty of care to the people receiving the end service. A fact made more obvious since Capita declared at one government stakeholder meeting last year that they could control the interpreting market if given the chance. Not something the Deaf community would ever choose. Or interpreters.

Many frameworks are now being discussed and frighteningly the people that draw them up have no clue. You need professional interpreters in mental health? What do you mean someone with level 3 and no interpreter training will not suffice? We really haven’t moved on.

And on the perpetuation of the myth that CSWs are somehow ok and we’ve all forgotten the work done in the 1990s by the then, more ethical, CACDP… CSW and interpreter apprenticeships are still being discussed, the threat of a CSW register is still around, NDCS (a charity that is supposed to campaign for the best for Deaf children) is part of the ‘BSL coalition’ (along with BDA, Signature and others). Awful misnomer. NDCS advertises funding for BSL language qualifications for CSWs. Maybe a slight admittance there that CSWs are not good enough for Deaf children?  The Deaf children that should be seen as the important future of the Deaf community rather than being let down. The Adept UK machine still rumbles on and no one seems interested in reframing the debate. Why is no one talking about the ideal for Deaf children’s access to education, about what options could be possible then trying to find solutions that are a better than the two tier interpreter/CSW mess we have now. Where are the academics, experts and organisations to come up with something better? This blog aloNe can not address this. It needs a much larger public debate intiated by the very organisations who seem to perpetuate the myth itself.

Of course the existence of this two tier system presents risks in an environment where a new government sees qualified professional interpreters as expensive, unnecessary and replaceable. Since the high profile People’s Assembly demo where NUBSLI interpreters featured all over the media and Deaf people and interpreters stood side by side in protest we have gained strength as a grass roots movement who want the same thing. There are pockets of good work being done by the organisations who serve the Deaf community but they seem mostly absent, too busy  fighting for their own survival amongst the cuts. This is now a grass roots fight for what is right. Deaf people and interpreters: get on board quick. We’ve got work to do and we are all on the Tories’ radar.

Jenny Sealey gives her taken the current situation.

Frightening that AtW are just making any changes they can and these are the very ones that will affect all Deaf people and Deaf organisations.

Work with Deaf people? Well you don’t need an interpreter then as you don’t need to communicate with the outside world. Deaf organisations and services are really going to suffer.

If you’re not already following the StopChanges2AtW blog and updates then you really need to, they are the only ones really campaigning for change and trying to stop the AtW rot. Roll on six weeks, I really hope no one reading this is voting for the Tories or the Lib Dems.

STOP CHANGES TO ACCESS TO WORK

Watch video here.

Jenny Sealey met with the DWP on 30th March 2015. As you can see, she was less than impressed.

StopChanges2AtW have made it very clear that whoever is in government after the general election, we aren’t going away any time soon. Until we have the employment support that Deaf and disabled people need to be able to share their talent and skills and enrich our society, our campaign goes on.

Join us!

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