Sunday, 26 February 2017

4,400 false SkillsFuture claims made for a course in January 2017

$2.2 million paid out in largest case of abuse to hit scheme; claimants have 30 days to return money
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2017

Suspicions were aroused at statutory board SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) when its data analytics system flagged the unusual nature of thousands of SkillsFuture claims made last month - all 4,400 were for one particular training course which the claimants did not attend.

It said yesterday that $2.2 million had been paid out for these false claims, in the largest case of abuse to hit the SkillsFuture Credit scheme.

The SSG, which comes under the Education Ministry, has sent letters to the claimants to demand they return the money in 30 days.

It added in its statement: "SSG takes this abuse of the SkillsFuture Credit very seriously and will take the necessary action against these individuals."

Under the law, those who give false information to the SSG can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for 12 months, or given both penalties.

The case came to light after the data analytics system flagged the claims that were mostly submitted towards the end of last month, and for the same course.

SSG declined to name the training provider or the course.

The SkillsFuture Credit scheme, rolled out in January last year, gives Singaporeans aged 25 and older $500 in credits to pay for training courses.

People can enrol in a course without paying, and the training providers will then claim the training fees from SSG.

Alternatively, they can pay for the course fees first, and then enter a claim on SSG's online system to be reimbursed.

SSG said SkillsFuture Credit is given to Singaporeans to encourage them to learn new skills, and "in this spirit, the course directory and claims process were designed to be simple, inclusive and user-friendly".

"It is regrettable that some individuals have abused the system and submitted false claims," it said without giving details on how the fake claims were approved.

SSG chief executive Ng Cher Pong said that since the fraud was uncovered, the agency has stepped up its audit and enforcement checks.

For instance, it is doing more checks on training providers and claims by individuals, and has strengthened the sensitivity of its data analytics system to highlight anomalies.

A committee comprising SSG board members has also been set up to strengthen the policies and procedures for the processing and disbursing of training-related claims to individuals, employers and training providers.

It is also running mystery shopping audits to address unethical or misleading marketing practices.

Before the incident, the number of false claims made each month had been low, with about 80 claims detected monthly in the past few months, said SSG.

The statutory board had previously sent warning letters to 144 individuals and 15 training providers for other breaches of terms and conditions not relating to fraud.

SSG also investigated six training providers, with the Commercial Affairs Department taking action against three of them. The remaining three are still being investigated.

Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said a strong message should be sent to people who try to cheat the system, adding that they should be dealt with by the law.

"It is unfortunate that some people are abusing the system," he said.

Parliament: MOE will come down hard on people who make false SkillsFuture claims
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 9 Mar 2017

The Education Ministry is taking false SkillsFuture Credit claims very seriously, and would take legal action against those who do not return the money.

Said Parliamentary Secretary for Education Low Yen Ling on Thursday (March 9): "We will leave no stone unturned as we take considered measures to review all processes to ensure a very robust system to deter abuses and also making of false claims."

Recently, about 4,400 people were found to have claimed about $2.2 million without attending the course they named.

Statutory board SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), which comes under her ministry, issued letters in February and March to those involved to demand the money be returned within 30 days.

As some have until April to comply, it is too early to look at the amount recovered, Ms Low said.

"SSG is tracking the recovery of monies closely, and will not hesitate to take necessary actions, including legal measures, against those who fail to return the monies," she said, in her reply to Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC).

The SkillsFuture Credit scheme gives Singaporeans aged 25 and older $500 in credits to pay for training courses. Either individuals or training providers can make the claim for the training fees from the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency.

All the 4,400 individuals named the same course when they made their false claims. Ms Low said investigations showed they did not conspire with the training provider.

Under the law, people who give false information to SSG can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for up to 12 months, or given both punishments.

To prevent further abuse, SSG is conducting more checks and audits on training providers and claims by individuals, she said. Those being audited have to submit documents such as attendance lists, course enrolment or proof of payment.

A committee is reviewing how training-related claims and disbursements are processed.

While the SSG strengthens its enforcement, it will also ensure the system continues to be user-friendly as most "are responsible users of the SkillsFuture system", said Ms Low.

* SkillsFuture Credit claims processes to be revised from 19 May 2017 to reduce risk of abuse
The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2017

SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) will revise the processes to claim SkillsFuture Credit from May 19, as it seeks to reduce the risk of abuse.

SSG said in a statement yesterday that under the new process, all SkillsFuture Credit payments will be made to training providers instead of individuals.

Individuals can still submit claims, but training providers will instead collect net fees from them after offsetting the credit used.

Explaining its revision, SSG said it found more than 4,400 individuals who had submitted false claims at end-January.

SSG said in February that $2.2 million had been paid out for the false claims, in the largest case of abuse to hit the scheme.

It then formed a process review committee, which recognised that claims processes should still be simple and easy, but steps had to be taken to reduce the risk of fraud.

But SSG will make an exception for selected overseas Massive Open Online Courses where SkillsFuture credit payments to training providers are not available. People who sign up for such programmes will need to provide supporting payment documents as part of the claims submission process.

In an update on its action to recover monies from the people involved in fraudulent claims, SSG said it has issued letters to them. As of Tuesday, more than 85 per cent of them had returned the monies or taken steps to do so.

Final letters of demand will be sent to the rest, and legal action will be taken if they fail to return the monies.

Those who submit false information to SSG and are prosecuted could be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months.

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