The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing accusations of a cover-up, after clearing one of its specialist welfare-to-work providers of fraud allegations, despite refusing to interview either of the two whistleblowers.
Perveen Sud and Reena Gour came forward last year to describe how the Work Choice provider Seetec had been artificially inflating the number of jobs it said it was finding for disabled people.
Sud and Gour described to Disability News Service (DNS) how Seetec offered Work Choice clients as free labour to charities and other host organisations, and then paid their wages for the next six months while allegedly pretending to DWP that the salaries were instead being paid by the host organisations.
Three organisations then told DNS how they had accepted disabled job-seekers for six-month placements, even though it was made clear to Seetec that they were just volunteer roles, they would not be paid, and there would be no jobs available at the end of the six months.
Despite this, Seetec – which provides Work Choice services in west and north London and has more than 800 employees – is alleged to have logged the placements as “job outcomes”, claiming payments from the government both at the beginning and end of the six months.
Seetec was able to make a profit because the amount it received from DWP – thousands of pounds for every client who completed six months in a job – was hundreds of pounds a month more than it paid the clients, who only had to work 20 hours a week at minimum wage to qualify for a job outcome.
Sud and Gour, both former employees of Seetec, passed on their concerns to DWP last August.
A DWP spokeswoman told DNS earlier this month that the investigation into their claims had found “no fraud” had taken place.
But she refused to say whether the investigation reached any other conclusions, or whether it had criticised Seetec.
Now DNS has confirmed that neither of the whistleblowers was interviewed by the DWP investigation team.
Sud said: “We have the evidence but we were never ever called. It is a bit concerning because [the fraud] was so blatant.”
She said DWP’s conclusion that there was no evidence of fraud was a “surprise” and “makes no logical sense”.
And she said she was “upset and angry” with the way DWP dealt with the “investigation”, and added: “If they have done a thorough investigation, how is that possible without even talking to the whistleblowers?”
Gour said she also had not been interviewed by DWP, or asked for her evidence.
She said: “DWP didn’t want to speak to us. When someone makes an allegation, the first thing should be to come back and ask questions, but they haven’t done anything at all, not even a phone call.
“Companies like Seetec can get away with things like this. It’s not nice, it’s unethical.”
After speaking to the two whistleblowers, DNS passed their concerns to DWP, which has so far refused to comment on why it failed to interview them.
Labour’s shadow employment minister, Stephen Timms, who tabled a parliamentary question about the fraud allegations last November, after having the claims passed to him by DNS, said this week: “I am deeply worried that the DWP does not even appear to have investigated these allegations properly.
“Complacency in this area is disastrous. Government departments must be vigilant on fraud, DWP above all.”
Seetec declined to comment.
1 May 2014