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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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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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.

Stop Changes to AtW: Campaign update

Excellent work by the Stop the Changes campaign with some extra information about damaging developments with CSWs which will harm the interpreting profession, especially in light of the framework agreement. Watch out for NUBSLI’s #ScrapTheFramework campaign, gearing up now.

STOP CHANGES TO ACCESS TO WORK

We thought an update would be useful to let you know what is happening with the #StopChanges campaign at the moment.

Fighting Fund:

We have now raised £3,100 for any potential legal cases, and are still working closely with Leigh Day and keeping an eye on the current situation. We are ready to take on any new cases which are felt necessary and hope that with the current level of uncertainty, this will offer some reassure AtW users. Support is and will be made available.

Government Review:

We are waiting for more information about the government review into AtW. Despite originally stating a three month review would take place, nine months later we are still waiting.

Work & Pension Select Committee Inquiry Response:

The report from the Access to Work inquiry held by the Work and Pensions Select Committee requires a government response. This should be received two months after…

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Work and Pensions Select Committee Report Findings Summary

If you haven’t caught up yet with the release of the Work and Pensions Select Committee report and its recommendations, published on 19th December, here is a round up.

With over 350 submissions of evidence to the committee, some in BSL, it was shown just how many people had experienced problems with Access to Work, either as users of the scheme or as professionals supplying a service.

Even the oral evidence sessions caused a furore with no access for Deaf people and some evidence sessions not being televised. Or they were but there was no interpreter present.

The report set out several recommendations which organisations can now use to further lobby ministers to implement.

The report highlighted how damaging actions taken by this government have been and how little consultation they did prior to detrimental changes which could have so easily been avoided:
– imposition of the 30 hour rule for support workers on BSL interpreters leaving Deaf people struggling to employ interpreters who did not want to be employed
– applying guidance as a rule and changing the guidance so frequently that users were left with no knowledge of what it was
– targeting high cost users and cutting support without warning
– imposing review periods of three months leaving people unsure about whether to book support or not
– changing the address to a mail handling centre without notifying anyone so invoices were late by more than two months causing providers to borrow money to pay their mortgages and nursery bills
– there are many more examples…

The Committee is to be applauded on its clarity. NUBSLI has found it hard to gather information when so little is made available by the DWP. In meetings where interpreter organisations are present, internal figures are quoted which when asked for in freedom of information (FOI) requests seem to disappear. In a culture of secrecy and obfuscation it has taken months of work on FOIs by NUBSLI members to get to the bottom of how the AtW budget is worked out and what it is set at along with a general lack of available statistical information. The Office for NationalStatistics has not called the DWP the worst department for nothing. This work is still ongoing as answers to FOIs by the DWP tend to reveal little.

Under this government you can also trace the changing statements made online. In 2012, the government accepted the recommendations made by the Sayce report. After that you can then see via published statements and answers to questions in Hansard that previously protected budgets become protected over longer spending review periods, millions go missing and the same recommendations from Sayce are still being made about how government should view AtW.

Budgets which are protected, then changed to have protected averages over three years amount to a lot less when spend in the first year means budgets in the following years are protected at a far lower amount. Especially when announcements are made in the second year when spend has already occurred. To anyone looking at the figures there was nothing protected. After averages are worked out the AtW budget was actually cut by millions in the very year the government accepted recommendations, made announcements and was effectively cut again the year after.

Another shock this year was the missing millions thankfully picked up again by the Committee. £80 million in fact. This could have nearly doubled the AtW budget, in the way that was talked about as not being possible in the last evidence session by the Minister of State for Disabled People, Mark Harper MP. The previously promised increase in AtW spend has not materialised. What is more shocking is that the only people campaigning about this are Stop Changes and the organisations involved in supporting the campaign such as DPAC and NUBSLI.

There was another £15 million promised that later, in announcements, become spread over three years which does not appear to be included in the spend.

For organisations and parts of the media to talk about interpreter salaries without challenging the government about cuts, or worse being in agreement with making cuts, has done a disservice to the Deaf community and has been nothing but damaging. At best this is ignorance, at worse working to a government agenda that align’s with ones own rather than the wider community.

There are recommendations by Sayce that are elaborated on in the Committee’s report such as the way AtW is viewed by the government and how budgets are calculated and spent.

In summary:
– AtW produces a return on investment by way of lower benefit claims and should be treated as such within overall DWP budgets (look up the DEL-AME switch)
– AtW produces a return on investment by way of increased tax payers in work so HM Treasury could give money back to DWP to reflect this

Let’s hope we do not have a repeat of 2012 where recommendations are ‘accepted’, statements made but yet the reality gets worse.

Let’s hope we see a materialisation of the £95 million and budgets are actually doubled as promised.

Let’s hope, really hope, that everyone agrees that talk of cuts are nonsensical, government is challenged on this, that they see AtW as an investment and we should all work together to make the recommendations in the report a reality.

More information:

Work and Select Committee press release and report

Stop Changes response to Committee’s report

NUBSLI response to the Committee’s report

DPAC blog

Government makes Access to Work Scheme guidance public following challenge by law firm

Originally posted on Leigh Day’s website, the legal firm challenging DWP on its guidance and the reason Stop Changes have been raising money for a fighting fund.

Blogged by Stop Changes and reblogged here:

Please see below from Leigh Day. Item published on their website.

22 December 2014

The Department of Work and Pensions has agreed to publish their guidance on the Access to Work Scheme (AtW) after receiving a letter before claim from the law firm Leigh Day. The DWP have also confirmed that revised guidance is being produced and published, which they hope to commence by 30 March 2015.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the campaign group ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’, highlighted in a letter before claim that the DWP had acted unlawfully in having no officially published guidance for the scheme, thus meaning that potential claimants did not know the criteria for eligibility or the rules that would be applied to their claims, claimants were also unaware when changes were made to the guidance and the nature of those changes.

The Access to Work Scheme is delivered by the DWP through Jobcentre Plus and is designed to help people with disabilities to overcome work related obstacles. This includes the provision of grants that fund practical support for people with a disability to start working, to stay in work, to start a business, or to become self-employed.

Within their letter before claim Leigh Day also addressed issues relating to the ‘30 hour rule’, which they described as an example of the ‘apparently inconsistent, unlawful and opaque’ way the AtW scheme has been applied by the DWP.

In June 2011, the guidance of AtW was changed so that those receiving over 30 hours of assistance from a support worker could only claim for this on the basis of an annual salary of up to £30,000, rather than for an hourly rate of an agency worker.

The ’30 hour rule’ was suspended in May 2014 as the AtW underwent review over a three month period.

As there was previously no published guidance any updates made to the 30-hour rule were unknown, leaving the public unaware of the current and future status of the ruling.

Lawyers at Leigh Day requested in their letter that the DWP revisited the AtW grants of all those affected by the ’30 hour rule’ and reinstated the funding that they were entitled to prior to its implementation.

However, the DWP responded by saying that they felt it was not appropriate to review every case which was subject to the 30 hour rule.

Ugo Hayter, a solicitor in the Human Rights department at Leigh Day who is representing the ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’ group, said: “We welcome the Department of Work and Pension’s decision to publish their current guidance as well as their revised guidance in March 2015.

“Their previous failure to publish this vital information meant that public access to this was denied, which we believe was unlawful.

“We now urge for the issues raised in relation to the ‘30 hour rule’ to be re-considered as many people had their support by the Access to Work scheme arbitrarily cut or suspended through this rule, which put their employment and businesses at risk. We believe that this requires a full investigation and for action to be taken to reverse any outstanding cases where the 30 hour rule is still being applied.”

Ellen Clifford, on behalf of Stop Changes to Access to Work, said: “We are pleased by this victory and welcome the DWP announcing that they will publish guidance. This is a first step in the right direction in solving the numerous issues with the Access to Work scheme.

“However, the weaknesses in DWP’s administration of the programme are still prevalent, this is putting AtW users’ employment and their businesses at serious risk.

“We hope that the DWP will consult and communicate with AtW users; make consistent and lawful decisions and take urgent steps to reinstate the funding to which users were entitled prior to the imposition of the 30-rule.”

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

ENDS

The 30 hour rule was also subject to criticism to the Select Committee.

We are currently looking at the next steps which need to be taken, but are delighted by this response.