Welfare-to-work fraud claims ‘gag’

(UKPA) – 1 day ago

Whistleblowers with “damning” allegations about welfare-to-work companies that hold multi-million pound Government contracts were “gagged”, it has been claimed.

MPs were due to take evidence in public from a former employer and three auditors involved with A4e and Working Links, but a last-minute decision meant the session was held behind closed doors.

A senior source said Conservative MPs, who dominate the Public Accounts Committee, “gagged” the witnesses, preventing them from potentially embarrassing the Government, by insisting the hearing was held in private.

Conservative MP Matthew Hancock insisted the committee had reached a consensus about how the evidence would be taken. He added: “We didn’t know what was going to be in the evidence. The evidence had not been presented to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).”

During the public session held later, Labour MP Austin Mitchell called for the claims made in private to be investigated.

He said: “We have just sat through a long closed session which produced some fairly damning indictments of the structures and the practices in A4e and in Working Links, and gave several indications of possible fraud.”

The DWP’s top civil servant, Robert Devereux, said he would look into the claims if they were put in front of him. Earlier this month, ministers were accused of leaving glaring holes in fraud controls on A4e.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said vital evidence was missed in risk assessments of the company, which holds Government contracts worth more than £70 million a year. The DWP did not request internal audit reports, including a paper highlighting nine cases of possible fraud, it found.

Mr Devereux, DWP permanent Secretary, told MPs that three of the nine cases had already been investigated. The remaining six, plus five other less substantial claims in the report, would now also be investigated, he added.

Labour’s Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, told the civil servant of two cases where companies offered incentives to people who had independently found work to say they had been helped to get the job.

Copyright © 2012 The Press Association. All rights reserved.

Paul Champion

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