Data protection, anyone…?
Intriguing story here: I heard a whisper (quite a loud one tbh) very recently that work programme providers Urban Futures, who are subcontracted by G4S to put people on the Community Work Placement in 30-hour-a-week workfare jobs, might have lost/misplaced/didn’t have/couldn’t find attendance timesheets that were filled in by people on their CWP workfare placements. My word, I thought. I understand that these forms are crucial for reimbursing claimant travel costs, claiming these travel costs back (presumably from G4S or the DWP? – I’d like Urban Futures or someone to tell me) and submitting accurate records. I’m guessing that without these papers, companies can’t do any of this, or do any of it with any accuracy. I wanted to speak to Urban Futures about this, and about the way all this works (if works is the word). I rang and rang and rang. You’ll see below that finding someone to speak to Urban Futures isn’t easy.
Still. Very interesting stuff.
Today, I spoke to Embrace UK, which is one of the charities that takes people on these workfare placements. The charity seemed to know exactly what I was talking about. They confirmed that people from Urban Futures had recently turned up, said there was a problem with their timesheet records (ie they didn’t have them) and asked Embrace UK if they had copies of timesheets to confirm that people had attended their workfare placements at Embrace. The charity said that it was angry about the request, but agreed to help in the end because they thought that without that confirmation, people on CWP placements might not get reimbursed for their travel or childcare costs, etc: “Don’t know if they have lost the time sheets, or misplaced the timesheets, but they came to us to, yes, to find a copy of timesheets.” The charity said that Embrace UK doesn’t keep complete timesheet records itself – “it’s not our job.” I wonder if that means we have a scenario where any “missing” timesheets – if they were/are missing, of course – might be completed in a retrospective way?
Who can really say.
Anyway. Personal data. I’ve seen copies of a few of these CWP timesheets in the last month – the ones I’ve seen belong to people who keep their own copies for themselves. There’s a lot of personal data on those papers. People’s full names are written out on them and details of their workfare placements (when and where) are also recorded. Information about their weekly jobsearch activity also appears.
Which means we potentially have big questions here. One big question is – are these timesheets missing in action and if so… where are they? Here’s another big question – apropos of nothing at all, of course – what are Urban Futures’ data protection procedures?
Unfortunately, this all remains a mystery, for now at least. I rang Urban Futures off and on throughout today – but their main office number was not answered for quite a while. I first called about ten minutes after I’d hung up from Embrace UK. There was a sort of crackling noise and then the call ended. After that, I got an automated message telling me to try again later. I knew perfectly well that the number was the right one. It was the same one I rang a couple of weeks ago when Urban Futures was ignoring me for this story.
Being a resourceful sort, I tried the number for a second Urban Futures office across the road from the main office in Wood Green (by happy coincidence, I was outside those offices yesterday, so I knew there was a second office across the road). I asked to speak to someone – and got an earful of music. The music went on for about 12 minutes. Then I was cut off. I rang again. The woman who answered the phone said that “they” must be busy across the road in the main office and that she would try to transfer me. More music – and then I was cut off again.
An hour or so later, I tried the main office line again and got through – to two guys (one after the other) who insisted that they couldn’t comment and that I should call an 0845 media number. The problem was/is that the media number doesn’t work. I was given the exact same number a few weeks ago and it didn’t work then. I just tried it again. It still doesn’t work (doubtless it’ll magically be fixed seconds after I post this). Anyway – I argued the toss with one of these guys for ages and said Tell Me More About The “Lost” Timesheets and he said No Comment, and round and round we went. We did this for a bit and then he told me to call the media number, or to call G4S, or wait until the media number was fixed. Then he suddenly had to whisk himself off to a meeting.
Pity. I want Urban Futures to explain what is up with the timesheets – that is, of course, if anything is up. Ahem. I want to know how many timesheets are lost if they are indeed lost, what “lost” means in this context, how lost they are and where any lost ones might be. Could they, for instance, be lying around somewhere in a pub or on a train? Just wondering. I have other questions, too – namely, does Urban Futures outsource its administrative functions? Does it, for example, outsource things like timesheet filing and storage? Could it be that people’s personal information would be at risk if a whole bunch of timesheets with personal data on them were…who knows where? What – just in the general sense – are the penalties for work programme providers who lose timesheets, or don’t have them, or can’t find them, or that kind of thing? Maybe I’ll find out if the media number sparks back into life.
Intriguing. As I say.