Tagged: Oxfordshire

A4e staff jailed for DWP back-to-work training fraud

Six employees at a back-to-work recruitment company have been jailed for a fraud that saw them falsely claim almost £300,000.

They worked for Action 4 Employment (A4e) which helped people gain training to get into work.

They made up files, forged signatures and falsely claimed they had helped people find jobs, enabling them to hit targets and gain government bonuses.

Four more employees received suspended sentences.

Following a 13-week trial at Reading Crown Court, four people were found guilty of taking part in the fraud in January. Six others previously admitted their part, and a further three were acquitted.

Prosecutor Sarah Wood said between them they created 167 false claims which cost the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which contracted A4e to carry out the work, £288,595.

Some falsified files using the names of family members, while others offered bribes in the form of vouchers to get people to fill out false forms, the court heard.

A4e ran the Aspire To Inspire lone parent mentoring programme between 2008 and 2011.

The £1.3m contract covered Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and was funded by the European Social Fund.

A4e was also paid £10,500 a month to implement it, and received payments for each person it helped gain employment.

In sentencing, Judge Angela Morris said there had been a “systematic practice” of compiling bogus files over a “considerable period of time“, behaviour which she described as “appallingly cavalier”.

She said:

“No amount of pressure justifies the wholesale fabrication of information in files or the forgery of other people’s signatures on documents, all of which is designed to extract money from the Department of Work and Pensions.”

She added it was “simply wrong”.

The defendants were:

  • Charles McDonald, 44, of Derwent Road, Egham, Surrey, pleaded guilty to six counts of forgery and one of conspiracy to commit forgery. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
  • Julie Grimes, 52, of Monks Way, Staines, Surrey, pleaded guilty to nine counts of forgery. She was sentenced to 26 months in prison.
  • Nikki Foster, 31, of High Tree Drive, Reading, pleaded guilty to nine counts of forgery, and was jailed for 22 months.
  • Ines Cano-Uribe, 39, of Madrid, Spain, was found guilty of one count of forgery and one of conspiracy to commit forgery. She was jailed for 18 months.
  • Dean Lloyd, 38, of Rochfords, Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of forgery. He was given a 15-month jail sentence.
  • Bindiya Dholiwar, 29, of Reddington Drive, Slough, pleaded guilty to seven counts of forgery, and was jailed for 15 months.
  • Zabar Khalil, 35, of Dolphin Road, Slough, was found guilty of one count of forgery. He was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Matthew Hannigan-Train, 31, of Westacre Close, Bristol, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit forgery. He received a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Hayley Wilson, 27, of Middlesex Drive, Milton Keynes, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit forgery. She was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Aditi Singh, 32, of Albert Street, Slough, pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery and one count of possessing items to commit fraud, and received a 10-month sentence, suspended for two years.

A4e chief executive Andrew Dutton said the company has a “zero-tolerance policy” towards fraud and money had been set aside so “the taxpayer will have lost nothing” from the scam.

Mr Dutton said: “Their claims do not reflect the way this company operates, or the values of our 2,100 staff, whose honesty and integrity are much-valued.”

> But seldom practised, it seems.

Source – BBC News, 31 Mar 2015

Cuts To Local Welfare Schemes ‘A Christmas Present To Loan Sharks’

This articlewas written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 18th December 2014

Poverty charities and councils have warned that the government’s refusal to guarantee funding for local welfare schemes will force low income families in crisis to turn to food banks and loan sharks.

The government announced in January that it would no longer provide £180m central funding for local welfare assistance schemes operated by English local authorities after April 2015, triggering a cross-party revolt by Conservative MPs and council leaders, Labour councils and charities.

It is believed that the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, attempted to secure £70m for local welfare to announce in Thursday’s local government finance settlement, but was blocked by the chancellor, George Osborne.

The local government minister Kris Hopkins told the Commons on Thursday that there would be no additional funding for local welfare, although he encouraged councils to make further formal representations, raising faint hopes that the government may revisit the decision in February.

Local welfare provision offers emergency help for a range of vulnerable people who fall into unexpected crisis, including women fleeing domestic violence, homeless people, pregnant mothers, care leavers, pensioners and people suffering from chronic physical and mental health problems.

Some in Whitehall are understood to be concerned that cutting local welfare will provide additional fuel to critics who argue the government does not care about poverty. A cross-party report on food banks this month urged the government to protect local welfare assistance, saying food bank referrals would increase if it was not reinstated.

Hopkins said that although there would be no new funds for local welfare, ministers would outline a notional figure of £130m in the overall grant allocations to councils – a cut of £50m – although this would not be ring-fenced, meaning councils can spend it on other services.

Cllr Andy Hull, Labour-run Islington council’s executive member for finance, called the decision not to provide local welfare funding “an early Christmas present from the government for loan sharks and payday lenders.”

He added: “This safety net supports families to stay together, helps people sustain their tenancies and keeps kids out of care. It is a lifeline, not a luxury. Now, thanks to the government, it lies in shreds.”

The Local Government Association said almost three-quarters of local authorities will abandon or scale back local welfare schemes unless they receive government funding. Two county councils, Nottinghamshire and Oxfordshire, have already closed their schemes.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

“In the long-run tax payers will foot a higher bill if low-income families can’t stop a one-off, unforeseen expense from becoming a full-blown crisis – and the human cost will be high. For mothers leaving violent partners or youngsters moving on from homelessness or care, the schemes can make the difference between managing or not.”

Helen Middleton of the Furniture Reuse Network, whose member charities work closely with councils on helping low-income families, said the decision showed the government had “no real understanding of the levels of poverty in this country”.

Homelessness charity Centrepoint said young homeless people used local welfare schemes as a vital safety net:

“It’s completely unacceptable that young people who have fought to turn their lives around after facing homelessness are once again left to sleep on floors for lack of something as basic as a bed.

“Ministers must look carefully at responses from councils to this announcement and consider whether their proposal really reflects the level of poverty in many of our communities.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said:

“The government’s decision to reduce annual funding from £172m to £130m will make it harder for councils to support vulnerable families facing a crisis. The requirement that town halls fund their schemes from within existing budgets may create a postcode lottery for many families in poverty.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  18 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/cuts-local-welfare-schemes-christmas-present-loan-sharks/

TransPennine Express loses trains to ‘David Cameron’s stomping ground’

Passengers who use an already packed rail service which operates in the North East could face further overcrowding.

From next April, First TransPennine Express is set to lose nine of its 70 trains to Chiltern Railways in Oxfordshire, after it struck a train leasing deal with the company that owns them.

This week, Alistair Gordon, the UK boss of Keolis,  which owns a 45% stake in First TransPennine Express, said its line connecting Newcastle with Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool was so busy he recently saw a woman faint on board a train.

Mr Gordon reportedly commented: “Try getting on a train . . . and some days you just can’t.”

He said the problem was a chronic shortage of trains and that the company could not find extra carriages for its diesel services. “There is not enough rolling stock in this country,” he said.

Government figures show the franchise is one of the most overcrowded in the country after doubling its passenger numbers in a decade from 13.5m to 26m. Now it facing up to increasing passenger numbers with less trains.

First TransPennine Express leased the nine Class 170s from Porterbrook, a rolling stock operating company, for the duration of its franchise which has been extended for a year until 2016. Chiltern was able to offer a longer term leasing deal.

A spokesman claimed, although a solution has yet to be found for the problem, it would not affect its service in to the North East where it uses Class 185 rolling stock.

He denied suggestions some might be diverted to cope with the loss of the nine Class 170 carriages

Customers in the North East will see no change in terms of capacity and timetabling,” he said.

The spokesman said they were lobbying the Department for Transport to help find a solution.

It was only in May this year that ten new four-coach electric trains – costing £6 million each – started work on its route between Manchester, the North East and Scotland.

They offered 90,000 extra seats every week on all their North of England services, running one train every hour during the day between Manchester and Scotland and five trains every hour between Leeds and Manchester.

What we’re saying to the DfT is we need to protect the capacity we have put in place,” said the spokesman.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said:

“It is a shocking indictment of both this Government’s policies and two decades of privatisation that one of the most crowded franchises on the rail system is losing a large chunk of its fleet to routes around the stomping ground of David Cameron and his cronies.

“The internal rolling stock merry-go-round is robbing trains from the North to aid the South while the clapped-out, lashed-up Pacers are also being kept on as part of the new Northern and TPE franchise.

“What a disgraceful way to treat passengers who are paying through the nose to ride these highly-profitable services.

“With the re-privatisation of the East Coast Main Line being bulldozed through, despite the success of the public operation that has delivered a billion pounds back to the taxpayer, this madness is set to not only continue but to worsen.”

Meanwhile David Sidebottom, Director of Passenger Focus, an independent rail passenger watchdog, said:

Getting a seat, or even sometimes getting on a train, can be a struggle for some passengers as overcrowding on the railways grows. It is a particular problem with First TransPennine with just 55% of FTPE passengers telling us that they are satisfied with the availability of seats or space to stand, and this is getting worse.

“Passengers need to see more seats on TransPennine and other trains. And they will want to know when this issue will be resolved.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal. 14 Oct 2014

Areas of North-East worse off than former East European communist countries

Parts of the North-East are poorer than many areas in former communist countries in Eastern Europe, new figures show.

People living in County Durham and Tees Valley have a lower income than places in Romania, Bulgaria and Poland, according to the Brussels statistics.

Large chunks of Greece also boast higher living standards than the North-East’s poorest sub-region – despite that country’s recent economic catastrophe.

And the figures also lay bare the extraordinary wealth of central London, where incomes are 4.5 times those in Tees Valley and County Durham.

Phil Wilson, the Sedgefield Labour MP, said the analysis was a stark reminder of just how far the region had to go to catch up, saying: “These are poor figures.

“There is a lot to do to raise the standard of living in the North-East. People face a cost of living crisis, which has only got worse over the last two or three years.

“However, we should remain part of the EU, because the North-East has benefited from a lot of inward investment, including from multinational companies like Nissan and Hitachi.”

The statistics, produced by Eurostat, an arm of the European Union, compare wealth across the EU using a measure known as “purchasing power standards” (PPS).

 It takes into account the effect of prices on the cost of living, rather than simply measuring gross domestic product (GDP), or output per person.

They show that, in 2011, Tees Valley and County Durham, GDP per head on the PPS measure was £14,700 – or just 71 per cent of the EU average.

That was significantly lower than Northumberland Tyne and Wear (83) and North Yorkshire (89) and the third lowest figure in the UK, after Cornwall and West Wales (both 64).

But it was also lower than the Yugozapaden sub-region of Bulgaria (78) and two areas in Poland – Mazowieckie (107) and Dolnośląskie (74).

Four sub-regions of Greece enjoy a higher income and Bucureşti-Ilfov (122) – which takes in the capital of Romania – is far, far wealthier.

Meanwhile, two other sub-regions of the UK – North Eastern Scotland (159) and Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (143) – are among the EU’s richest.

Separate figures, yesterday, also threw fresh doubt, on the Government’s claims that the region has enjoyed a jobs recovery, despite the flatlining economy, until recently.

Since the start of the recession five years ago, the number of self-employed people has leapt by 23,000 in the North-East and by 37,000 in Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, the number of traditional employee jobs has dropped by far more – by 91,000 in the North-East and by 64,000 in Yorkshire.

> I think that says all you need to know about the job situation in the North East.

Worryingly, the average weekly income of someone in self-employment is 20 per cent lower than in 2008, earning them 40 per cent less than a typical employee.

Source – Northern Echo  07 May 2014

Councils Sit On £67m In Emergency Help For Poor

This article was written by Patrick Butler, George Arnett, Sarah Marsh and Samir Jeraj, for The Guardian on Sunday 20th April 2014

A fledgling scheme to provide emergency help to the poorest in the country is in chaos, with £67m left unspent and record numbers of families being turned away.

Figures released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that by the end of January councils in England were sitting on £67m of the £136m that had been allocated to local welfare schemes. Half of local authorities had spent less than 40% of their funds.

An analysis by the Guardian shows that under the new local welfare assistance schemes, four in 10 applications for emergency funds are turned down, despite evidence that many applicants have been made penniless by benefits sanctions and delays in processing benefit claims. Under the previous system – the social fund – just two in 10 were. In some parts of the country, as few as one in 10 applicants obtain crisis help.

The schemes were designed to help low-income families in crisis, such as those in danger of becoming homeless or subjected to domestic violence. Charities and MPs have warned that those denied help are turning to food banks and loan sharks.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, which offers debt and legal advice, said the emergency financial support system was in chaos. “When the safety net fails, people are left with no way of putting food on the table, paying the rent or keeping the lights on. Confusion over what help is available and who to approach means that people who need support are left high and dry.

“People are in danger of being pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks by the chaotic emergency support system. Citizens Advice bureaux see people in desperate need of support who have nowhere else to turn when jobcentres and the local council don’t give out support.”

Under the new system, emergency funds are no longer ringfenced, meaning that councils can divert unspent cash to other budgets. Local welfare assistance schemes were created a year ago in 150 English authorities, alongside national schemes in Wales and Scotland, following the abolition of the social fund.

Most schemes do not offer cash or loans, but support in kind, such as food parcels and supermarket vouchers. The social fund provided loans repayable against future benefit payments – typically about £50 – and larger capital grants to destitute families who needed help to furnish flats or replace broken domestic appliances.

Despite charities reporting that demand for help has rocketed as a result of economic hardship and welfare cuts, some councils spent more money setting up and administering their welfare schemes than they gave to needy applicants.

Councils told the Guardian they had provided less in emergency funding than in the past because there was a lack of public awareness of the new system. Some had failed to advertise their schemes, while others set such tight eligibility criteria that many applicants – typically including low-paid working families, benefit claimants and those deemed to have not lived in their local area for long enough – were turned away.

Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who has repeatedly raised the issue of local welfare in parliament, said his constituents frequently reported struggles to get crisis help. Constituents he has helped include:

• A low-wage family with three children, including an 11-month-old baby, who applied for £35 to pay for gas, electricity and baby food to help them until payday. The council scheme initially referred the family to a food bank. After lobbying by Danczuk, they were given £20 for energy costs, but were refused money for baby food.

• A pregnant mother and her partner, who after benefit changes were left with £7 a week for food after rent and council tax. They were told that they could not apply as the scheme was for “genuine emergencies” such as fires and flood.

In each case Danczuk believes the families would have qualified for emergency support under the social fund. “Central and local government are pushing people into the hands of payday loan companies and food banks. They have in effect privatised the lender of last resort,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions, which funds local welfare schemes run by 150 local authorities across England, said: “In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how best to support those most in need. It is for local councils to decide how they spend their budgets.”

But a Conservative council leader has called on the government to reinstate local welfare assistance funding, calling it a “cut too far”. Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex county council, said the proposed cut would leave many low income families without vital support when they were going through a “tough patch in their lives”.

A briefing note prepared by the council found that 43% of 5,582 individuals and families helped by the local welfare fund to the end of February had applied because they had been left penniless by benefit sanctions and delays.

The Local Government Association has called upon the ministers to reverse the cut, and it is understood a number of councils and welfare charities are preparing to seek a judicial review of the government’s decision to cut local welfare assistance funding in April 2015.

Many councils are using part of their welfare assistance allocation to provide financial support for local food banks, which provide penniless applicants with charity food parcels.

Lady Stowell, a local government minister, told the House of Lords in January that local authorities were “doing a good job of supporting people in times of crisis and are doing it without using all the funding that has been provided so far from DWP”.

But Centrepoint, the homelessness charity said that local welfare assistance underspending meant many homeless youngsters could not get vital support when they moved from hostels into independent living. “Councils need to start using these funds to address urgent need now and ensure that young people have access to it,” said Seyi Obakin, Centrepoint’s chief executive.

Two local authorities – Labour-run Nottinghamshire county council and Tory-run Oxfordshire – have scrapped local welfare assistance altogether and plan to divert the money into social care services..

Conservative-run Herefordshire  county council had spent less than £5,000 of its annual £377,000 allocation by the end of December last year, equivalent to 1% of its local welfare budget.It said its spending reflected low demand for crisis help, a claim disputed by Hereford Citizens Advice and Hereford food bank, which said they had been inundated with requests.

Labour-run Islington council had spent 80% of its emergency funds budget by the end of December last year and had spent all its emergency funds by April. It said it had encouraged its frontline staff to refer individuals to its local welfare scheme to ensure they got crisis help and assistance with any underlying problems, such as debt.

Local authorities are anticipating further problems over local welfare in 2015 when the DWP scraps funding for the schemes. Councils, charities and MPs have called on the government to restore and ringfence the crisis support allocation.

Councils say that in some cases they have refused emergency help because benefit claimants have been wrongly referred to local authority welfare schemes by jobcentres. Some councils have refused to accept applications from those who ought to have been offered a short-term benefit advance from their local jobcentre.

Scotland and Wales have their own welfare assistance schemes and these have higher applicant success rates than in England. In Northern Ireland, which still has the social fund, 70% of applicants received help.

Source – Welfare News Service  20 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/councils-sit-on-67m-in-emergency-help-for-poor/