Training tutors told to spy on jobless

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Private companies providing state-funded courses for nearly 400,000 long-term unemployed are being ordered to spy on their trainees to ensure they are not claiming benefit fraudulently.

As part of a crackdown on abuses, hundreds of training organisations all over Britain have been warned that their contracts with the Government could be withdrawn if they do not co-operate.

Advice from Whitehall officials urges tutors to look out for hints dropped by trainees and snippets of conversation, inside and outside the classroom, which might incriminate them.

Some of the companies, which provide programmes aimed at helping the unemployed back to work, are angry that the policy could undermine trust between the jobless and their lecturers.

One training consultant, who has pulled out of the business, said: "Ministers will have to decide whether they want a network of informers or people dedicated to helping the unemployed."

An "open learning pack" sent out by the Employment Service to organisations and tutors in the south-east of England provides help in spotting possible fraudsters.

The circular, denounced as childish by some sources, says that trainers should look out for claimants turning up for courses with "a bag of tools or in working clothes". They should also be suspicious if an unemployed person is "regularly spattered with paint or oil" or regularly carries a sales briefcase.

Other incriminating behaviour may include bad time-keeping and use of the trainer's computer to draw up business quotations.

When registering their suspicions, trainers should give a full description of the alleged fraudster, such as height, build, colour of hair and age, so that inspectors can monitor his or her movements.

Under an increasingly tough regime for the jobless, those who have been unemployed for two years have to attend a New Restart course, and people who have been out of work for a year must take advantage of the Jobplan Workshop scheme.

Natalie Rein, a training consultant, argued that the circular was instructing tutors to engage in "unethical" behaviour.

"We don't want to be pompous, and we're not asking for a Hippocratic oath, but we have to build up some kind of relationship with people. Training has a bad enough name anyway.

"This is simply immoral; I'm very angry about it."

A spokesman for the Employment Service said training providers were not expected to "actively seek" fraudsters. However it was "the duty of government employees to protect the public purse".