Are welfare-to-work schemes getting away with fraud?

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Duncan Smith: the quiet man listens.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has made tackling benefit fraud a key plank of his welfare reforms.

Backing a Sun campaign encouraging people to report benefit cheats, he wrote: ‘When people cheat the welfare system, they take money out of the pockets of those who need it.’

But a Private Eye special report reveals that his Department of Work and Pensions is considerably more relaxed about allegations of fraud at some of the companies it has hired to help get people off benefits and into work.

A whistleblower has claimed to the parliamentary public accounts committee that Working Links, a ‘welfare-to-work’ provider that earns over £100m a year from government contractor, has been caught by the DWP at least four times since 2007 claiming money for people who had not in fact been found work. The DWP managed to recover the money, but the Eye reports that the firm appears not to have been punished for the attempted frauds. The company claims it has a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and that all irregularities had been investigated and resolved.

In 2010 DWP pledged to publish regular reports on ‘trends and lessons learned’ from its investigations into allegations of fraud. But when the Eye went hunting no such reports were to be found. Freedom of information requests revealed no evidence of any attempt to start work on such an effort.

Even in the wake of reports of potential fraud at A4e and Working Links, transparency is apparently not a priority. Private Eye claims pressure from DWP ministers led to the public accounts committee hearing evidence from whistleblowers in secret.

In a linked story Private Eye points out that A4e’s lobbyists have close ties to the Conservatives.

A4e has hired Quiller Consultants, the lobbying firm owned by Lord Chadlington, chairman of David Cameron’s constituency party, who last year raised eyebrows when he bought a tranche of land next to Cameron’s Witney home and sold it to the prime minister to use for a garage and drive. A4e has hired Quiller’s George Bridges, who used to run Conservative Campaigns, and helped George Osborne manage the 2010 election campaign.

The full report is in the current issue of Private Eye.

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Paul Champion

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