The Employment Service is investigating the magazine's vendors as part of a crackdown on social security fraud. The service believes the magazine sellers may be earning more than the maximum pounds 2 per day. If they do, their benefits can be stopped on a day- by-day basis.
Employment Service officers can demand the names of employees but Mr Bird says the Big Issue is not an 'employer' but a wholesaler. 'We do not supply work to anybody - we're retailers. We supply the homeless with products. How they sell it and where they sell it is up to them.'
After yesterday's meeting with the Employment Service, Mr Bird said the officials had retired to consider their legal position. 'We are waiting for clarification. On the basis of that clarification they may find they have a few problems. At the moment we are not in a position to hand the names over.'
A spokeswoman for the Employment Service denied targeting the Big Issue: 'We had a tip-off that people were claiming benefit and working there at the same time. We just followed that up.'
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