Welfare-to-work employees face fraud charges

Dozens of counts  allege bonuses secured by falsely claiming jobs found for unemployed

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The Independent Online

Nine workers at the welfare-to-work firm A4e have been charged with fraud for allegedly faking documents that falsely claimed they had found unemployed people jobs.

The six women and three men from the company – which was paid £200m a year by the Government for training job-seekers and finding them work – face dozens of counts of fraud for allegedly securing bonuses on the basis of fake documents.

The police inquiry is continuing but prosecutors have not been asked to consider charges against the former head of A4e, the entrepreneur Emma Harrison, who last year quit her role as the Government’s “family champion” as allegations unfolded.

The nine, who will appear in court next month, include seven recruiters and a contract manager and face a total of 60 charges including fraud and forgery, according to the Crown Prosecution Service.

They are alleged to have claimed reward payments for putting people into work although some had not been found jobs or even been registered on the company’s books.

The charges were announced as it emerged that A4e had been punished for poor performance with a cut in the amount of work it receives from Whitehall. Ministers have previously claimed that the company’s contracts would be finished if there was evidence of “systemic failure”.

A4e is one of the biggest operators of the Government’s welfare-to-work scheme which rewards companies if they are able to find lasting jobs for clients. The company made a pre-tax profit of £15.1m in 2011, but slumped to a £2.1m loss last year amid the controversy. The providers secure most of their money when someone has stayed in work for six months but police were investigating allegations that bonus payments were secured even when workers were in jobs for just a day.

Sue Patten, CPS head of fraud, said: “The CPS has authorised charges against six women and three men in connection with alleged fraudulent activity at Action 4 Employment (A4e), a social purpose company contracted by the Department of Work and Pensions. It is alleged that between February 2009 and February 2013 nine A4e employees including one contract manager, seven recruiters and an administrator, employed across three A4e offices in the South East of England, committed numerous offences of fraud.”

A4E stressed that it had improved its practices since the alleged offences took place. “The investigation by Thames Valley police relates to alleged incidents which date back to 2009 and were uncovered by A4e’s own internal controls,” it said in a statement. “We referred the matter to the Department for Work and Pensions, which then referred the allegations to the police.”

The accused are due to appear before magistrates in Slough on October 14.