Fresh doubts have emerged over the Government’s controversial welfare reforms amid claims that a third of a million vacancies advertised on the new Universal Jobmatch website could be bogus.
The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed it was investigating 179 employers for potentially breaching the rules on the site.
The disclosure comes as it emerged that national fraud investigators are examining allegations of a scam in the North West of England in which job seekers responding to adverts were asked to hand over £65 for background criminal checks for positions which did not exist.
Universal Jobmatch was set up in November 2012. Since March last year anyone claiming jobseekers’ allowance can be required to apply for a minimum number of jobs through the site each week to prove they are actively looking for work – or facing losing benefits.
Whilst Government figures show more than half a million employers have advertised on the site, it was recently claimed that as many as one in three of the vacancies could be fake.
Labour MP Frank Field, who obtained the figures, has asked the National Audit Office to investigate. He said: “The heart of the government’s welfare reform programme is bedevilled with fraud and, in its current state, it is out of control.
“Anyone can place an advertisement on the site in the space of five minutes by ticking a few boxes. Ministers need to get a grip before more people fall victim to fraudsters preying on them with the helping hand of a major government department.”
Among the breaches uncovered so far are employers promoting franchise opportunities or pyramid selling schemes which require applicants to part with money up front. While not illegal, they do flout Jobmatch terms and conditions and are removed.
In another instance, positions advertised on Universal Jobmatch for trainee child counsellors with salaries of £18,500 a year rising to £34,000. Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside Police have all received complaints from job seekers who claim they were duped after attending interviews.
In Liverpool successful applicants claimed they turned up for work but were told that the company did not exist. The matter has been referred to the national fraud agency Action Fraud.
Under the terms of the deal advertisers are permitted to conduct interviews in Jobcentre Plus premises.
In a letter obtained by Mr Field last month, the DWP said: “Currently there are 179 accounts advertising 352,569 jobs which potentially breach the terms and conditions (of Universal Jobmatch) and those organisations are being contacted to seek evidence of compliance.
“If evidence is not provided the accounts will be terminated within five working days and all associated vacancies removed from Universal Jobmatch. It is anticipated that this exercise will take around three weeks to complete.”
In a recent Parliamentary written answer, DWP minister Esther McVey said it would be too expensive to keep records of the number of people finding work through the site or how long they had remained employment.
A DWP spokesman said millions of vacancies had been posted since 2012 and problems of bogus adverts were common to all on-line job sites.
“The truth is that the vast majority of employers post genuine jobs, and we crack down on those who don’t play by the rules. We also regularly monitor the site and remove jobs that don’t meet our rules, such as duplicate advertisements or jobs for franchises,” he added.