New analysis finds 90% of London Universal Jobmatch ‘vacancies’ are agency listings

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DWP’s job search site, Universal Jobmatch (UJM), has come in for a great deal of criticism since it began in 2012. Almost immediately after its launch reporters found ads on UJM for contract killings, drug couriers, and ‘internet babe chat’, lending credence to concerns that the site would fill with fake jobs.

This might seem like a bit of a joke, but remember that UJM is a key part of DWP’s jobseekers regime, and that people are being sanctioned and losing their benefits for failing to use the site.

Concerns over UJM have not gone away. Channel 4 reported this month on a leaked National Audit Office document which found that ‘there is no formal guidance on the depth or nature’ of DWP’s checks on companies using UJM.

So, how reliable are UJM listings in London? Not very.

New research carried out for LVSC shows that nine in every ten jobs advertised in London on UJM were placed there by job warehouses, CV listings sites, and recruitment agencies.

The research was conducted by author and Visiting Journalism Professor Paul Bradshaw, who analysed nearly 5000 London listings posted in the first three months of 2014. The information was gathered by Martin Sullivan using a technique called data scraping, where software ‘scrapes’ the site for listing data on daily basis.

Bradshaw found that a single company was responsible for almost half of agency listings (and 43% of all listings) in London in the period: job board CV-Library listed over 2100 jobs on the site, out of a total of just under 5000 analysed. By contrast, fewer than 500 of listings analysed in the period were posted directly by employers, rather than agency listings.

Anyone who’s looked for a job recently will know that job board listings of this kind do not always lead to real job opportunities.

At worst, they can be open to outright fraud. An investigation by Channel 4 news in February alleged that a rogue recruiter based in Coventry, Mark Coward, posted thousands of fake jobs to UJM, and pocketed commission payments as jobseekers followed the links:

‘Jobseekers who answered any one of thousands of ads posted by Coward were encouraged to visit a legitimate recruitment business, CV-Library, using links that showed Coward had recommended them. [Coward] then received £1 for every CV successfully submitted to CV library.’

CV-Library has since severed ties with Coward following the Channel 4 investigation, but questionable practices are commonplace in the recruitment industry. In the wake of the Channel 4 investigation, job board expert Stephen O’Donnell told Recruiter magazine that buying traffic to job agency sites by paying commission for referrers was ‘very common’, and that well known job boards such as Totaljobs, Monster and Jobsite ‘all buy traffic to a lesser or greater extent’.

DWP says that it has removed thousands of fake and repeat listings from UJM, and as of March no less than 179 businesses where under investigation for possible fraudulent behaviour. Between them, these businesses had posted 350,000 of the 600,000 places on UJM.

In March this year, The Guardian reported that DWP was considering scrapping the site as its was plagued with duplicate and fraudulent listings, and this would be expensive to fix. Monster are paid well over £4 million per year of public money to run the site.

Of course, it’s impossible to know how many of the thousands of agency listings in London are legitimate and how many – if any – are fake. Nevertheless, the very high proportion of agency listings, the lack of effective checks, and  the potential scale of abuse by fraudsters should be of serious concern to anyone using the site.

DWP have defended their approach, saying that ‘Universal Jobmatch is designed to be as open and accessible as possible so jobseekers have the best chance of finding work.’

But if the quid pro quo of this ‘open and accessible’ approach is that UJM is full of non-job listings, is it really worth it?

Impact on local government policy makers

The reliability of UJM listings is not only important to unemployed people facing an increasingly punitive jobseekers regime, but also to local authorities and other policy makers, who rely on vacancies data to understand local the labour market and economy.

Following the introduction of UJM, the Jobcentre Plus Vacancies reports produced by the Office of National Statistics were discontinued. These reports were a key source used by policy makers to understand the strength of the local labour market, for example to calculate rate of job vacancies per jobseeker in a borough.

Needless to say the data in these ONS reports, while far from perfect, was subject to far greater scrutiny than UJM listings, and could be broken down geographically, e.g. by local authority area. Many stakeholders raised concerns about the scrapping of the ONS vacancy reports at the time. Those concerns and the government’s response are summarised in this short paper (PDF).

It now seems that, following the Channel 4 reports and negative publicity, DWP removed the Public Reports section from the Jobmatch site in March, without any explanation.

This leaves local authorities, colleges, universities, welfare to work providers, and anyone else with an interest in local labour markets with no source of information on trends in the number of job vacancies in their area. This will make it incredibly difficult for providers and policy makers to match training provision with the skills needs of local employers, for example.