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Universal Jobmatch Programme (Fraud)

Volume 580: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2014

It is the first time that I have had the privilege of speaking under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan, and I welcome it. You will realise from your own constituency work that the debate is immensely serious. It originated with a constituent who was ripped off, to put it in delicate language, through using the Universal Jobmatch that the Government, rightly, provide. I want to say at the outset, to avoid any doubt, that while I have been a Member of the House I have always been in favour of conditionality. The Government’s latest move on conditionality—

I should have hoped for more order at Jobcentre Plus than some hon. Members have been displaying, Mrs Riordan.

It must be at least 25 years ago that I suggested that help should be given to those who had difficulty finding a job. There may be fraud, and we should ask people from that group to come in at different times each day to sign on. I am pleased that after about 25 years a Government have got round to that idea. I approach the debate not in an attempt to wreck what Jobcentre Plus does, but in an attempt to improve it. As a start, Andrew Forsey of my office, who has done all the work on this, checked the Jobmatch scheme for Birkenhead today, as I am sure the Minister did. I know that many of her constituents use the same facilities. In the Birkenhead constituency there are 2,647 people claiming jobseekers’ allowance and, an hour or so ago, 24 jobs were advertised as available within 20 miles of Birkenhead. Fifteen of those were duplicate agency jobs, and two were stand-alone agency jobs. Despite the fact that the search was for jobs within 20 miles, one of those advertised was in Milton Keynes, two were in London, and one was for an overseas worker. There was a grand total of three actual vacancies. The Monster jobsite, run separately from the work that Monster does with the Department for Work and Pensions, had one job listed today, which was a teaching job.

To focus the debate, I thought it would be worth while considering the letter that the Minister wrote to the Chairman of the Select Committee, and the annex to that. The Clerk to the Select Committee kindly sent me a copy of both, and I have 12 questions for the Minister. Five are about the letter, and the others are about the annex. First, the Minister says in her letter:

“We have well established procedures to minimise the risks of this”—

bogus jobs—

“occurring within Universal Jobmatch.”

What are those checks and what are the results of using them? Secondly, she says:

“We have closed the fraudulent account and will compensate all jobseekers that have been affected in this case.”

I refer to constituents who were taken for a ride by a fraudster advertising on the Department for Work and Pensions site. The Minister says that they will be compensated. They lost at least £65 each—the money that they were asked to provide for a Home Office check—and have been offered £25. What does the Minister mean by compensation in those circumstances?

Thirdly, the Minister’s letter states:

“If the employer is in breach of our Terms and Conditions we will remove their right to advertise on Universal Jobmatch.”

What trawling of the site does she carry out, and how many removals occur? My constituent received a letter from the Department, which said:

“Currently there are 179 accounts advertising 352,569 jobs which potentially breach the Terms and Conditions”

that the Department has laid down. If the Department is telling one of my constituents that well over 350,000 jobs advertised may be in breach of the terms it lays down, how are the removals carried out? Fourthly, the letter states that that Department has

“removed…400 non-compliant accounts since…November 2012.”

May we have some idea of the reasons for the removals? How were the accounts breaking the contracts? Will the Minister explain more about the cleansing undertaken to get to that total?

My fifth and last question about the Minister’s letter arises from her saying that

“we have now concluded our investigations into 183 distributor accounts, resulting in the removal of the accounts and the associated vacancies.”

What are those distributor accounts? What sorts of vacancies were removed, and how many jobs were involved? Answers to those questions arising from the letter will enable us to understand more fully the action that the Department takes to ensure that people who use Universal Jobmatch will not be ripped off.

The first question arising from the annex is about its slightly boastful statement that DWP and Monster

“have already made major improvements”.

May I ask what those are? Secondly, it says:

“Sadly, the existence of ‘rogue’ employers is nothing new”.

If they are nothing new, what does the Department learn from finding out about those bogus employers and acting against them? After all, the Department offered facilities to someone who was known, certainly in some circles, as a fraudulent individual. People skilled in fraud do not normally turn up using their correct names, and nor did the person in question, but he was ushered into DWP to conduct his fraud. What action does the Department take in that respect? Thirdly, the annex mentions “well-established procedures to minimise” fraud. What are those procedures?

The fourth question arising from the annex to the letter is about the assertion that

“like all internet job sites, we manage the issue of duplicate or inappropriate vacancies.”

I remind the House that there are 15 duplicate jobs in the 54 advertised today on the DWP site. How well is that managing the issue? Fifthly, it is claimed that

“whenever we have a doubt”

action is taken. Who registers those doubts, and what is the doubt test that could lead to action? Sixthly—there are only two more questions—the annex states:

“If an employer breaches our terms and conditions we remove their right to advertise.”

Yet, as I said, the letter to my constituent said that there might be more than 350,000 jobs in breach of the terms and conditions. What action is the Department taking?

Lastly, the annex says that

“there has been inaccurate speculation about the relationship of the DWP and Monster.”

Will the Minister tell us something about that relationship, so we can be clear what it is? It is totally proper for them to have a relationship and for the DWP to ask Monster to carry out its functions; but it is not proper to expose constituents to fraud. That is the main point of the debate.

Today, even if we took the Department’s website at face value, only 24 jobs are advertised within 20 miles of Birkenhead, with more than 2,500 people claiming JSA. Large numbers of people are dead serious about trying to get a job, quite rightly, using that service, and they are being let down badly. What actions will the Government take to improve the service? Again, if people do not use the Jobmatch website actively, might they face sanctions, given the numbers of sanctions being employed at present? It is totally proper that the Department should have a website on which to advertise jobs, and totally proper that Beveridge’s idea of labour exchanges should be brought into the IT age, where people can easily advertise and where—we hope—claimants can as easily find jobs. However, the Department has totally failed not only to ensure that there are serious jobs on the site but, even more important, to take action to combat fraud.

I welcome the opportunity for the debate and to face my neighbour in Wirral West. Some of our constituents use the same jobcentre and the same site. I look forward to her replies, although I quite understand that she may need to write to me afterwards with some of them. I am grateful for the debate, Mrs Riordan.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I thank the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for securing this debate, so we can have clarity over Universal Jobmatch and about the many positive things that it is doing at the moment. If we look at the latest statistics and numbers of people getting into work, we see that this year annual employment has gone up to the highest level in 25 years, and this month we have had the biggest annual fall in long-term unemployment since 1998. The number of vacancies at any one time in the market has also gone up significantly, with 600,000 job vacancies at any one time.

I will try to answer as many of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions as I can here today. If I do not get to all of them, I will write to him with further answers, as he suggested. I thoroughly understand why he secured the debate. Although fraud in Universal Jobmatch is less than 0.1%, the one instance took place in his constituency.

I can confirm that the fraudulent account was closed and all the people affected were compensated. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the amount that was given; it was significant. Of course, there was the repayment of money for the Criminal Records Bureau check—£65—and yes, he mentioned £25 on top of that. Significantly, some of those people got up to £1,200, because it is about actual money lost as well as compensation—he will be pleased to hear that. I have the full list of people, what they have got and how we have recompensed them.

I welcome that information. As the Minister knows, in this case, Jobcentre Plus invited the fraudster in to have an office in the DWP, so one of my questions was what steps the Department takes to ensure that when it offers people office space in the Department, they are bona fide, as one would have thought they would be. What actions does the Department take to weed out fraudsters, who clearly do operate in the system?

I will come to that. We have more than half a million businesses and 6.1 million claimants on the site, and nearly 5 million job searches a day. We know that there will be instances—it is less than 0.1%, as I said—where something goes wrong. What matters is how we deal with it, sort it out and compensate those people, as we did in this instance.

Things have changed considerably over the past 16 years. The right hon. Gentleman was a Minister in the Department, so he will know that. Every Jobcentre Plus, everybody who works there, and every adviser wants the best for their claimant. We have seen how things have changed significantly, from being paper-based to having job points—a quite clunky solution introduced by the previous Labour Government. Job points frequently did not work, were offline, and things could go wrong. I looked for the statistics for fraud during the Labour Government’s tenure, but it seems that they did not wish to keep those figures. Although we have anecdotal evidence that fraudulent and bad behaviour was common, and we know that that was regional, it seems that it may have been brushed under the carpet. I am not sure what was going on then, whereas we have full transparency of what goes on now, significantly so and obviously, because it is online, which is key.

If we think of the changes and transformations over the past 16 years, of course we have to be online. Google did not even exist 13 years ago. The technological advances are significant and not having people online would be wrong, given that 25% of all jobs are online only. We have to get the best service we can. However, by opening up those opportunities—by having more than 227% more vacancies online and 1,316 more employers online—we open up the possibility of fraud, and we have to clamp down on that significantly.

The timeline of what went on may help to explain some of the procedures and things that happened. The vacancy posted by Options 4 Families for a trainee child counsellor went up online on 9 December 2013. On 18 December, the DWP was notified by Monster, which asked whether it was right that we were asking for CRB checks. It was not a constituent coming in to say, “I have a problem here,” as they do through letters, e-mails, and by coming into surgeries. It was our own checks that came across the problem. Ten thousand manual checks are going on per month, and Monster does checks too, so things were looked at then. It was decided that that was fine and the vacancy went back up online, but it was brought back down again and closed on 20 December. It was probably online for about nine days. Only a month or so after that, it seems, the right hon. Gentleman came to us to discuss the matter. We had, however, already seen it, and we were dealing with it and getting in touch with those constituents. That goes to show the checks that are going on constantly, the support that is available and how we deal with things.

That is what is key. Why did Universal Jobmatch come into being? What did we have to do in 2012 to give us the best opportunities to help people into work in this day and age? How were we going to have an online system that actually helped people to look for work, matchmaking them 24/7 and not only during opening hours of 8 to 6, Monday to Friday? How could we have a system enabling people to upload a CV, to find more jobs and to know what is going on? Universal Jobmatch is the best possible solution: it is the largest website in the UK, with 5 million job searches every day on average, bringing employers and employees together and with a significant increase in the number of employers using it. That is key, too. We have to reach out to claimants, and we have to reach out to businesses and employers to ensure that they want to engage and play a part. We also have to help Jobcentre Plus staff, who want to know that they have the best possible equipment.

As we have seen, it is important that we close down any fraudulent behaviour. It is also important that we deal with other inappropriate vacancies. It is worth noting that there frequently seems to be confusion between fraudulent vacancies, which are entirely unacceptable, and the duplicate vacancies that we sometimes see and can arise for a variety of reasons. Often, if a vacancy appears more than once on the site, it is a result of an employer using multiple agencies or posting the opportunity by themselves in addition to using other avenues. That is an unavoidable feature of the open-access model that the service provides, and it must be seen in that context. There are significant opportunities but, equally, if such duplication should not have occurred—if people are posting a vacancy where they have no direct relationship with the employer, for example—the vacancy will be taken down.

We have to consider what Universal Jobmatch has brought to the arena. There is Monster and various other services, but Universal Jobmatch allows job advisers to help people find a job and to check that they are looking for work, which is also key. Equally, we can work with claimants through their claimant commitment and help them to use the service. We can also advise claimants. We take things such as data security very seriously and we give advice to our jobseekers on how to stay safe online when conducting a job search. That advice is published on the UJ website, and it is given to people in jobcentres in a leaflet, “Safety and Security when looking for work.” Claimants are also advised not to pay any fees up front for help with job searches, and they are advised not to reveal personal details such as their bank account number, national insurance number or date of birth. Such information should also not be included on their CV. We are giving such advice on a daily basis.

People can access extra support through the “contact us” button. They are asked whether the site is working adequately, and there is a most frequently asked questions page. There is also additional support. Jobcentre staff are able to help people as much as they can. All of that is key, but it is always evolving and changing. We have to ensure that we have the best service, and wherever anything goes wrong we have to clamp down and ensure that it does not happen again. Equally, when a local Member of Parliament brings the activities of a company to this House, it highlights exactly what we do to close down companies and see what has happened. It also shows how we have supported claimants to recoup their money, which is right. The system is constantly monitored, and we constantly survey what is and is not acceptable.

We have made considerable improvements to Universal Jobmatch. When it was first introduced, we ensured that it was easy to use, that people were getting used to it and that employers had confidence in it. Confidence is key, too: we have to ensure that people have confidence in the system. Of course, all those businesses have confidence and think that Universal Jobmatch is a great way to reach out and find employees. It is significant that 90% of businesses that use Universal Jobmatch are small and medium-sized enterprises. For them, it is a cheaper and more reliable way of finding somebody close to their business. People underestimate the service. More than ever before, the Government are reaching out to business and asking, “How can we support you? How can we get somebody employed? What training do they need? Do they need work experience? Do they need any extra support?” That is what we are doing, and Universal Jobmatch is part of that greater relationship. All I can say is that, with the significant increases in getting people into work, all of these things are working.

We have the ability to disable and delete non-essential cookies, and we have taken the ability to close down accounts. We are enabling jobseekers to re-access their Universal Jobmatch account securely when locked out. We have revised access groups to control the web admin for DWP. We are also listening to what claimants would like. They are saying that they would like to search by a keyword or skill; they would like to find work within a specific distance, postcode or ward; they would like to choose how many hours they have to travel; and they want to filter out vacancies already reviewed within the list of results. We are doing all of those things—constant monitoring, constant upkeep and constant development.

The system has revolutionised the way people look for work. It is enabling people to get into work, and it is allowing advisers to work more closely with claimants, but where things go wrong, it is right that that is brought to this House. In this case, the matter was sorted back in December before the right hon. Gentleman brought it to the House, but it is right that the matter is discussed openly so that we get the best possible result for claimants.

If one was a Prime Minister looking for a totally trustworthy Minister to be in charge of our security service and to ensure that nothing of any comprehension could be learned about the service, today’s debate shows that we have a candidate to fill that role. I am as confused as I was when I came in about what actually goes on.

In the few minutes remaining, I have three very simple questions for the Minister. First, she said that 10,000 checks are undertaken. Why 10,000? What is the time span, and what are the results? Secondly, she said that the Government will hunt duplicates and take them down. Of the 24 jobs advertised as relevant for Birkenhead, 15 were duplicates. Who is responsible for taking down those jobs?

Thirdly, the Minister talked in general terms about having to clamp down. Who clamps down, and who is responsible for that? How many people? How often do they do it, given the number of people who put up jobs and depend on the results? I would be grateful for answers to those three questions.

By way of example, I was showing how, before the right hon. Gentleman even knew about the incident in his constituency, we had found it, dealt with it and closed down the site, which shows that we have our own team working on it within the DWP. Monster’s team is working on it, and it was streets ahead of his good self, even though it is correct that he brought the matter to the House. Of course we have said that anyone who was put to any inconvenience, who paid out or who suffered any loss was paid, and the compensation on top of their loss was significant. For example, where a loss in actual terms was £750, there was £500 of compensation on top. I have the full list of all those who received payments, but trust me that we have worked closely with them. We did not want to be in that situation, and as I said less than 0.1% of people are in that position, but we have dealt with it. Equally, there are 1,002 full-time vacancies within a 20-mile radius of Birkenhead posted on Universal Jobmatch today.

As I said, where things go wrong, we correct them and sort them out, but I hope everyone can see that we have done that in this instance. When we look at the number of people, 11 came forward and wanted compensation, which we have resolved. When we see that 5 million people a day are doing a job search on the site, we can see how, for the overwhelming majority of people, it is a very good addition to the other things that they might be doing to search for work both by themselves and with their adviser.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.