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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What to Watch out for in 2015

So 2014 has brought us… cuts, cuts and more cuts.

There was disparity in those cuts towards Deaf and Disabled people – see DPAC and Access to Work changes which mostly targeted the more “high-cost” users which included anyone who uses BSL interpreters.

The government announced quantative easing – pump money into the economy (by printing more) to make sure there is more to go round. What this actually did was made the rich richer. Everyone else did not feel any difference.

The economy is getting better, but only for the few (see above). For the rest… more food banks and zero hours contracts, no wage rises and more workers having to strike.

For Deaf people and interpreters? Access to Work chaos and news of a framework agreement for interpreting services UK-wide starting in 2015. Talk of interpreters earning £100k. Damaging, divisive and those that quoted it made themselves look ridiculous. All against a backdrop of excuses that there is no more money so we all have to endure more austerity. That despite the £95 million promised increase in AtW spend that never materialised. Why haven’t you heard about this more? Smoke and mirrors.

What to watch out for 2015…

The best campaign by far of 2014: Stop Changes to Access to Work including news of taking the DWP to a judicial review.

NUBSLI, the Union for BSL interpreters and translators. After only six months, membership is at over 20% of the profession. Membership of unions is usually higher than this amongst professions so there is a way to go before interpreters and translators are matching other professions. NUBSLI has been making headway with representations to the DWP concerning AtW and the Crown Commercial Service regarding the framework agreement. These are the two main political threats to the profession. Whatever happens it is certain that the work on minimum fees will do well to ensure that interpreting remains a viable profession. Without this there is little protection from cuts to fees, de-professionalisation of interpreting and to ward off a brain drain should threats get worse.

The new Framework for all interpreting services in the UK. First due to roll out from December, it has been delayed with tendering due to start this month. The Crown Commercial Service have done a good job of barely consulting with anyone bar agencies and government. Ignoring all calls for the removal of low level BSL qualifications (1-4), the ‘final’ draft was released and caused an uproar. There is much more wrong with the draft and NUBSLI continues its representations. Surprisingly there are some who still believe it will be a good thing: despite the MoJ, a framework being pushed through with only tokenistic consultation and certain large agencies involved with an interest in controlling the market. For that you should read more profit, lower quality, lower paid workers i.e. Interpreters, less choice and control for the end consumer i.e. Deaf people. Far from being a win/win/win situation this is more like large agencies (win), interpreters (lose), deaf community (lose). You could add the role of Signature/NRCPD/CACDP in this: backdoor statutory regulation and control of the market and training opportunities (big fat win/win/win for the three-faced organisation).

A new alternative register for BSL interpreters and translators.

There is a glimmer of hope for linguistic rights with Scotland’s BSL Bill. Anyone who has had any conversations with politicians will find talk centres around audiology, cochlear implants and Deaf people learning more English. And this from politicians that should know better. If the bill is passed in Scotland, we have a chance in the UK that organisations will have to think more about BSL users.

Not so much hope for school children with the so-called BSL Coalition and work on a CSW register. Whether a CSW register is held by NRCPD or another organisation, this is still a validation of the role and moves away from the potential to campaign for interpreters in schools and therefore higher standards and access to BSL for Deaf children for whom BSL is their main language. A backwards move by organisations who are supposed to be supporting Deaf children.

The UK appears to be the first country to have been investigated by the UN for violations of disabled people’s rights. Keep your eye on the disability sector for the latest. The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance of 10 organisations has been compiling evidence for a shadow report detailing what the UK government needs to do to fulfil its obligations under the UNCRPD. The BDA’s appendix is available to read online.

The run up to the general election. The Tory/Lib Dem coalition have shown no regard for equality: the unlawful scrapping of the ILF, disparate welfare cuts, UN investigations. UKIP forget it. The Green Party? The media is too busy focussing on UKIP. Labour? Catch up please. The Deaf/linguistic/disabled community combined is worth 12.5 million votes. That’s surely enough carrot to sort out the above and make 2015 a better year for us all.