Work Choice provider ‘skips vital criminal records checks on staff’


newslatestOne of the companies paid millions of pounds a year to find jobs for disabled people is risking their safety by failing to carry out vital checks on the criminal records of its own staff.

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

About half of the clients taking part in the Work Choice specialist employment programme have mental health conditions or learning difficulties, and many of them are treated as “vulnerable”.

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, Disability News Service (DNS) has been told by former Seetec employees.

This is despite DWP guidance which states that an enhanced check needs to be completed “for all of your staff and any sub-contractor/service delivery staff dealing with vulnerable people”.

The standard checks – carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) – cost £26 and take two weeks, while enhanced disclosures cost £44 and take about four weeks. DNS has been told there is a high turnover of staff at Seetec.

The revelations will add to concerns about the performance of the coalition’s work programmes, particularly Work Choice and the mainstream Work Programme.

Government figures show that more than 2,000 disabled people have started Seetec’s Work Choice programme since it launched in the autumn of 2010, but only 380 have achieved any kind of job outcome.

Parveen Sud, who has been working with vulnerable adults for more than 20 years and worked at Seetec as an employment consultant for 10 months, said she felt “really angry” when she found out it had not requested an enhanced disclosure when she joined the company.

She said: “All the other providers on Work Choice do enhanced disclosures. I am actually quite horrified.”

Sud, who is in a legal dispute with Seetec after whistleblowing on a safeguarding issue and subsequently leaving the company, added: “It shows that they are quite happy to ignore safeguarding. It shows that they don’t care.

“There are a lot of things that people have got on their records that might not show up on the basic disclosure. They could be fraudsters, they could be paedophiles. I know I was not a risk to them, but I could have been.”

Declan Field, who worked as an employment adviser for Seetec for about five months, said he was “99.9 per cent certain” that the company only requested a standard disclosure when he joined, even though he was working one-to-one with vulnerable disabled people.

Field said the failure to carry out enhanced disclosures showed Seetec’s “complete disregard for the security and safety of vulnerable customers”.

A third former Seetec employee, Reena Gour, who worked as a business development manager between April and July this year, also said she was given only a standard disclosure criminal records check.

She said: “It’s just completely wrong. People can take advantage of their position. That’s why the advanced checks are there – to stop that.

“It is dangerous, because some people have their lives depending on us. They tell us all their confidential secrets. Anyone could take advantage of these people in that situation.”

A DBS spokeswoman said its “primary role” was to help employers in England and Wales “make safer recruitment decisions by issuing criminal records checks and to prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups”.

Information that might be unearthed by an enhanced check includes data held locally by police forces, she said, such as where someone has been interviewed about allegations of harming a child or vulnerable person, but there has been no caution or conviction.

The DBS spokeswoman said: “This came about as a result of the Bichard enquiry which was undertaken following the case of Ian Huntley and the Soham murders. Huntley had been known to the police in several local areas, but this information had not come to light.”

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman said in a statement: “An enhanced [criminal records]check needs to be completed for all staff and any sub-contractor/service delivery staff dealing with vulnerable people.”

She added: “We are not aware that Seetec is not complying in full with published standards and legislative requirements – if you can provide evidence of this we’d be happy to look into it.”

DNS has now handed DWP the details of the three former Seetec employees, with their agreement.

The DWP spokeswoman added: “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.”

A Seetec spokeswoman said: “Having received expert advice from appropriate parties, Seetec is assured that it meets requirements.”

So far, she has failed to clarify the statement.

17 October 2013