150 Charities Denied Training Grants Due To Online Problems

Some 150 charities say they were unable to apply for government money for training schemes because of problems with a new online application system.

They say the system run by the Learning and Skills Council kept crashing and losing their applications. Thousands of unemployed and disabled people could be denied training, while staff could lose their jobs, they say.

The company that designed the system said any problems lay with users, but the LSC promised more help in future.

More than 1,000 voluntary organisations managed to submit applications successfully.

But one of the charities affected was Disability Hackney, which is based in a deprived area of east London.

The charity is run by disabled people and provides disabled people with job training and education on disability rights.

Director Sanusie Seesay said he had tried repeatedly to fill in the online application form for £250,000 in government funding to continue the course.

He said: “The system kept crashing, the system was not user friendly at all. Even the very day of submission – the very day – I was on the phone with them asking for guidance and that telephone conversation was going on when the time was up and the phone just cut off.”

The charity said more than 50 people were on the waiting list for the course but it is due to end in July and without extra funding they will not be able to take part.

Those currently participating said they had benefited from the course.

“What I got out of the course was learning more about being disabled and what rights disabled people have. I knew nothing about it before,” one man said.

“I’ve now used some of that knowledge to help other people in a worse position than myself – which is great. It is a great feeling of empowerment.”

According to Disability Hackney, there is now a serious chance it will collapse because the funding represented around three-quarters of its income.

More than 60 government organisations use a similar system, and with the current round of bids for the Learning and Skills Council alone up to 3 million pages of printed paper were saved.

But the system is not perfect. Last year Job Centre Plus used the same technology to invite applications to run training contracts.

Similar complaints from providers followed and a spokesman for Job Centre Plus told the BBC it will not use the system in the future.

Stewart Goldring, from the London Voluntary Sector Training Consortium, said he attended a government meeting at which those earlier technical problems were discussed.

“It was my understanding that there was more than some concern at the difficulties that were being faced,” he said.

He added: “My understanding from government was that they recognised this. So I was interested to see – shall we say – that they were going to use exactly the same system having experienced difficulties in the first round.”

Both the government and the company that designed the system have insisted there is no problem with the technology.

The company told the BBC that any difficulties were entirely the fault of the users.

Rob Wye, director of strategy for the Learning and Skills Council, admitted that it could have handled the situation better and said it twice extended the deadline to help those who struggled.

“I absolutely apologise to anyone who’s had a problem with the system,” he said.

“We’re doing everything we can to help them. We re-opened the tendering process and got extra help and support. But as with any tendering process there is no guarantee of success.”

The Learning and Skills Council said it would continue to use the same system in the future, but promised there would be much more back up and support.