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Government shuts down IT learning scheme over fraud scams

Staggering lack of foresight

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The government has decided today to shut down an IT training scheme it set up in 1999 that has become a magnet for unscrupulous training organisations and conmen. The decision follows a full-scale investigation by the Department of Education urged by Trading Standards at the start of the month.

The Individual Learning Account (ILA) entitled anyone aged 19 and over (UK resident, not in full-time education) to sign up for an IT training course and receive up to £200 off its cost. All they had to do was fill in a form.

Of course, this £200 wasn't going to be paid to the individual - that would encourage corruption. No, the government would pay it direct to the training organisation. It was innovative, pioneering, simple. It would give people the chance to pick up vital IT skills and make the UK more competitive as a whole.

It was also mind-numbingly naive. Before long cold-callers were telling people of this new government scheme. They would get free training, just sign this form. And the course would end up being a poorly photocopied copy of a Microsoft Word manual. But since they hadn't paid any money...

And that was when people bothered to get someone to fill in the form rather than simply forge signatures. Blank ILA forms started being sold at car boot sales. Another method was to offer "training CD-ROMs" with loads of software on for just £50 if you handed over your ILA form. Not that some excellent training hasn't been provided through the scheme. And of course, the only people that have really suffered are the government.

The scam was so easy to perpetrate that suddenly everyone picked up on it and since this July 1.2 million people have opened an ILA. Around 800,000 of these have spent some of the money from their accounts, although no one has a clue how many of these are legit. However, from today, the system has been shut down and no more ILAs can be opened.

The Department for Education is now investigating over 270 training organisations and 30 people so far have been arrested over fraud offences. You do have to worry about whoever dreamed the scheme up. ®

Related Links

My ILA.co.uk
Trading Standards' complaint

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