JOBLESS Scots, trying to contact a Scottish company contracted to deliver the Government’s welfare to work scheme, had their calls directed to the 999 emergency system during the Christmas and New Year holidays, it was revealed today.
• Company contracted by UK government to deliver welfare to work scheme directed calls to 999
• Stirling-based Triage Central Ltd admitted directing calls to emergency number over festive period
• SNP MSP Kevin Stewart uncovered the blunder and has written to Iain Duncan Smith demanding an investigation
Stirling-based Triage Central Ltd has admitted that “a number of calls” from clients were transferred by mistake to the emergency services over the festive season closure period.
And Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central who uncovered the blunder, has now written to Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, demanding an investigation.
Five years ago Triage Central launched the first “Scottish Pathways to Work” programme to be delivered by a private company in a scheme to support people claiming incapacity benefit back into employment and covering the Forth Valley, Fife and Tayside areas.
The company is now working with the Department of Work and Pensions to provide support, training, work preparation and job opportunities to help people in receipt of benefits progress back to work as part of the UK Government’s Welfare to Work agenda.
Mr Stewart said today that he had contacted Triage Central after being approached by a number of concerned constituents who had been redirected to the 999 emergency services when they tried to contact the company over the Christmas and New year period.
Kate Carnegie,the managing director of Triage Central Ltd, has now confirmed the blunder in letter to the MSP.
She states: “I have established that unfortunately there was a problem with our telephone transfer system over the Christmas and New Year closure period, and regrettably a number of calls were indeed being directed to the emergency services.”
She continues: “This issue has been fully investigated and steps taken to ensure that this situation cannot be repeated.”
Ms Carnegie adds that she had been unaware of the mistake until being alerted by the MSP.
Mr Stewart said he was concerned that the blunder may have affected people with genuine emergencies trying to contact the 999 service. It was also possible, he said, that some job seekers could have been “sanctioned” because they were unable to contact Triage to rearrange appointments or to call in sick.
He declared: “This is a serious mistake by Triage that will have affected a number of people. I just hope that none of those affected were people that were trying to report a real emergency. The public need to know how this could have happened and what will be done about it.
“There could well be people that have been sanctioned because they couldn’t get through to Triage to reschedule or cancel appointments. Those people might have to go two or four weeks without benefits because of this mistake.”
Mr Stewart claimed: “This is a mistake that will have cost the taxpayer and may well have cost those on benefits too. I hope that the DWP will take the opinion that every penny of that should be recouped from Triage.
“There are a number of problems emerging from the private companies that the DWP have contracted all and sundry out to. Westminster should step back and assess whether these companies themselves are fit for the job they do.”
Mr Stewart states in his letter to Mr Smith: “I would appreciate if you could inform me of whether the DWP were aware of this issue and what action has been, or will be, taken as a result of it.
“Additionally, I understand that some of Triage’s clients will have been sanctioned as they were unable to contact Triage over this time to reschedule appointments or advise of illness. Could you inform me of whether any of these sanctions will be reviewed and who will foot the bill for this?”