Press release

Employment Minister makes statement on A4e

The DWP’s Work Programme providers are required to ensure that stringent controls are in place.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling:

The DWP’s Work Programme providers are required to ensure that stringent controls are in place to guard against fraud and to adhere to high standards of compliance in the operation of our contracts. By its innovative payment by results design, the Work Programme also provides significantly greater protection against fraud than previous employment programmes.

In March 2012, against a background of public commentary on A4E, the Department was made aware of an allegation in respect of their separate Mandatory Work Activity contract. This is very different from the Work Programme. It is much smaller, shorter and focused on providing brief spells of work-related activity to individuals who will benefit from such activity. In contrast the Work Programme aims to deliver sustained job outcomes for the long term unemployed.

In the light of the allegation received, the Department announced it would audit its commercial relationships with A4E. The Department’s Internal Audit and Investigations team undertook this audit, supported by Ernst and Young, and examined the controls operated by A4E on all its current contracts with DWP.

The audits for the Work Programme, the New Enterprise Allowance programme and Mandatory Work Activity are now complete. They have found no evidence of fraud in any of these contracts. 

The original allegation suggested that A4e employees may have claimed payments for Mandatory Work Activity participants who had not in fact been placed in work.  The team investigated every MWA claim from the A4e office related to the specific allegation (Epsom) and a significant sample (20%) of all the other A4e claims under this contract. The sample evidence established that 97% of payments made related to a real participant who had been placed in a work-related activity. In the remaining 3% of cases, DWP investigators were nevertheless satisfied that the anomalies were attributable to inadequate procedures rather than fraud.

However, while the team found no evidence of fraud, it identified significant weaknesses in A4e’s internal controls on the Mandatory Work Activity contract in the South East. The documentation supporting payments was seriously inadequate, and in a small number the claim was erroneous. There was also a high incidence of non-compliance with other relevant guidance (including A4e’s own processes).

The process established prior to March fell significantly short of our expectations. As a result, the Department has concluded that continuing with this contract presents too great a risk and we have terminated the Mandatory Work Activity contract with A4e for the South East.

Contingency plans are in place to ensure there is continuity of support for participants in the Mandatory Work Activity programme.

We have made clear to A4e that we continue to require the highest standards of governance in relation to all their other contracts. We are reminding all our other providers of their obligations and our requirements in this regard and, should any further allegations arise, we will examine the evidence thoroughly.

The Department will reflect on how it can further improve its processes in the light of these audits to address any remaining control risks across all contracts and providers.

Recent coverage has also prompted complaints about service levels on past employment programmes where, unlike the Work Programme, the emphasis was on activities undertaken rather than on job outcomes. While this has not been part of our investigation, the Department is considering what further steps can best ensure that providers meet their minimum standards, and participants are clear about procedures for complaints.

Notes to editors

Mandatory Work Activity

Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) gives JSA claimants identified as most in need of support an opportunity to develop skills, disciplines and behaviours that we know are widely valued by employers and that can help them in seeking employment. MWA provides support to claimants who would benefit from a short period of activity to help them re-engage with the system, refocus their job search and develop work-related disciplines and behaviours.

Participation on MWA is mandatory and customers who fail to participate, fail to complete, or lose a place due to misconduct could be sanctioned for 13 weeks. A second failure in a 12 month period could lead to a 26 week sanction.

The placements sourced by the provider will:

  • last for 4 weeks.
  • be for 30 hours per week, unless restrictions apply, so allowing the claimant time to meet their actively seeking obligations.
  • be reduced in line with any restrictions a claimant might have on their Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg). In such circumstances, placements will take up 75% of the time a claimant is available for work.
  • be of benefit to the local or wider community.
  • be additional to any existing or expected vacancies the host organisation might have.

MWA participants will continue to claim JSA and attend Jobsearch Reviews. Referrals can only be made by Jobcentre Plus Advisers with the providers having no choice over who they see.

Payment is 100% start fee, this reflects paying the provider for a block of work, including sourcing the placement, arranging and validating the start, and ensuring that the claimant either completes the placement or a referral is made for a decision as to whether they are sanctioned. Providers are not paid for claimants who fail to start, but still incur costs in arranging placements and completing the sanction referral.

Work Programme

Commenced 20 June 2011. Contracts run for 5 years.

The Work Programme is for those people who are at risk of long-term unemployment. Once referred, claimants remain on the Work Programme for two years or until a participant has found lasting employment. Everyone who receives Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) can access the Work Programme at a time that is right for them.

Work Programme providers have flexibility to innovate and to design support that addresses the needs of the individual and the local labour market, rather than having to follow one size fits all processes.

Work Programme providers will be paid primarily for the results they achieve in supporting people into sustained employment. They will also be paid more to support harder to help claimants, reflecting the increased costs of doing so and making it financially worthwhile to help all claimant groups.

The Department’s financial modelling for the Work Programme was externally assured. Providers can make potentially greater profits than in previous programmes if they deliver real results. If they do not, the Government is no longer subsidising poor performers by paying providers large up front service fees.

Published 15 May 2012