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.

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