Fraud risk cuts choice for learner accounts

MINISTERS ARE determined to prevent fraud and low-quality training as they plan the successor scheme to individual learning accounts for the autumn.

New learner accounts, which are intended to put students in control of their training, will restrict their choices to prevent public money being paid to bogus schemes. Only courses which have been approved by the Learning and Skills Council will be eligible for funding.

No cash will be paid to students. Instead, they will have virtual funds to spend on courses, after taking advice through Learndirect.

Under the old scheme, which was scrapped in 2001, account holders were given pound;200 towards training, and the money could be spent on information packs with CD-Roms rather than actual training courses. The scheme was also exploited by fraudsters who illegally gained access to funds after obtaining account numbers.

Private service providers such as Capita, which ran the original scheme, have been excluded for the trial year, but could be involved in new accounts in future.

"The trials will be carefully evaluated before any decisions to extend the accounts are made," said a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills.

Bill Rammell, the further education minister, said: "Trials begin this autumn to test a new way of supporting students on full level 3 learning.

The system will help learners make informed choices by providing better access to information and guidance on learning, progression, work and careers.

"It is important we raise people's awareness of the support, costs and contributions that the Government, employers and individuals make to their learning. With no direct cash payments being made, account statements will show the amount of support being made available, including financial support provided by the state.

"Using lessons learned from individual learning accounts, we will control access and security of accounts and limit delivery only to LSC quality assured providers."

Learner accounts are part of a package of measures intended to give more power to individuals and employers in shaping further education. By 2010, the Government intends to devote 40 per cent of the adult skills budget to employers and individuals, in line with recommendations by Lord Leitch in his review of skills levels.

"It's about putting purchasing power in the hands of the customer, whether it's an employer or an individual, and making the system more responsive to their needs," Mr Rammell said.

The original learning accounts were scrapped after pound;10 million of reported fraud and an overspent budget. Few prosecutions have been brought.

They were relaunched in Wales in 2003 and in Scotland the following year.

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