With delays to Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) payments expected to continue, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) have been forced to terminate their contract with Liberata, the company blamed for failing to complete benefit payments for thousands of 16 to 18 year olds in need of financial support to continue with education. Rival company Capita will take over the £80 million contract.

The Badger reported in October that the National Union of Students (NUS) had supported calls for an inquiry into the EMA “shambles”, which led to a backlog of 200,000 applications. Capita now have to focus on clearing the back log of payments and offering adequate support to those in financial trouble. One survey found that 61% of students would be unable to continue in education if they could not receive their EMA benefits, which help thousands of students with transport, food and other essential costs.

Beth Walker, NUS vice president for Further Education, said: “We fear that many students have been forced to drop out of their courses by the delays and there is an urgent need for the Government to conduct a full inquiry into this catastrophic failure.” Capita’s take over of the EMA contract comes just months after they were brought in to replace ETS Europe, the company at the centre of the SAT results debacle this summer.

Shadow Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, said: “After the disaster of the SATs fiasco earlier this summer the chaos surrounding the delivery of this year’s EMAs is yet another example of the government’s failure to administer a large-scale project.”

“These are major government contracts, worth £75m, and they should look at the companies getting these contracts. A quick search on Google would have discovered the problems with Liberata”. Speaking on the BBC’s Newsnight, a former senior Liberata executive admitted: “I believe they knew [about the problems] from the early days of the deal. I am aware that a senior colleague of mine presented a report stating the technical and non-technical problems he had identified and said they needed to employ more staff and make technical changes – this was in October 2007.”

Capita are not without their own problems, however. In 2004 they were blamed for the serious problems following the launch of the Criminal Records Bureau.

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