DWP ignores whistle-blowers’ claims on criminal records


newslatestThe Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has made no attempt to contact three whistle-blowers who revealed that a specialist jobs programme provider was failing to carry out vital checks on the criminal records of its own staff.

Seetec is paid millions of pounds a year to find jobs for disabled people through the Work Choice programme, but the trio of former employees say the company is risking the safety of these clients by failing to order the checks.

Four months after the first whistle-blower told DWP about the claims, neither she nor two former Seetec colleagues who later came forward have been asked for their evidence by the department.

DWP guidance says its employment programme contractors should ensure that every employee who will work with “vulnerable” disabled clients is given an “enhanced” criminal records check.

But Seetec – which provides Work Choice services in west and north London – has only been paying for “standard” checks for job coaches, employment consultants and other new recruits, even though about half of Work Choice clients have mental health conditions or learning difficulties, and many are treated as “vulnerable”.

The standard checks – carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service – cost £26 and take two weeks, while enhanced disclosures cost £44 and take about four weeks.

Seetec is also being investigated by DWP over claims that it has artificially inflated the number of jobs it has found for disabled people through Work Choice.

Reena Gour, who was the first of the trio to alert DWP to the enhanced disclosure allegations, after she left the company in July, said she was seriously concerned about the delay.

Despite telling Seetec “over and over and over” to carry out the disclosure, the company failed to complete even a standard check after she joined.

Perveen Sud, another of the whistle-blowers, who told DWP about her concerns on 30 August, said: “I am very concerned because I think it is a serious matter and I am worried about the protection of the vulnerable adults and none of us have been contacted about it.

“Surely if DWP deemed this to be serious they would have been in touch with us. I just think it is inexplicable.”

Declan Field, the third whistle-blower, also expressed concern that he had not yet been contacted by DWP.

DWP has refused to comment, despite having asked DNS to pass on evidence of the allegations last month.

It confirmed last month that “an enhanced [criminal records]check needs to be completed for all staff and any sub-contractor/service delivery staff dealing with vulnerable people”.

It said then: “The safety of customers is clearly of vital importance. Our contract guidance makes clear that it is the providers’ responsibility to conduct appropriate security checks on their employees.”

Seetec has refused to comment this week, although last month it said: “Having received expert advice from appropriate parties, Seetec is assured that it meets requirements.”

Meanwhile, government figures published this week show that Seetec is by far the worst-performing of eight Work Choice providers, with only 13 per cent of disabled people referred to it securing any kind of job outcome so far, compared with the best-performing provider, which achieved 32 per cent.

Asked if Seetec’s performance was a concern, a DWP spokeswoman said: “We are always looking to improve provider performance to help more people into work.

“Underperforming providers have to regularly explain to the DWP how they intend to improve and where this doesn’t happen, they may face having their contracts removed.”

By March 2013, 62,490 disabled people had been referred to the Work Choice programme since it was launched in October 2010, but only 7,170 of them (12 per cent) had secured sustained, unsupported jobs.

But the figures do appear to show a significant increase in the number of disabled people securing a job outcome, including those positions that are temporary and supported.

In the final quarter of 2012-13, 43 per cent of those who started on Work Choice secured some kind of job outcome, compared with 34 per cent in the same period in 2011-12, and 23 per cent in 2010-11.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “Some good work is done under Work Choice but it’s very variable.

“Government should bite the bullet and replace non-functional incentives for providers with a personalised system of support so disabled people and employers can come up with solutions that work for both.”

The DWP spokeswoman said: “The latest statistics show that more of the most severely disabled people are now getting the support they need, to get into and stay in work.

“We will continue to work with disabled people, employers and providers to improve Work Choice even further.”

14 November 2013