27 October 2008
Benefits and Work has written to an influential committee of MPs about the deafening silence that has greeted our attempts to discover whether a senior Government official is behind a benefits calculation website.
Last month we reported that the Department for Work and Pensions denied any Government connection with benefitsupermarket.com.
The denial was issued after we discovered the website was registered to the wife of Roger Westerbeek, listed on a business networking site as Head of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) for the Pensions Service based in Warrington.
But after requesting written follow-up questions on the subject, the DWP has failed to respond to any further contact.
We have now contacted the chairman (Terry Rooney, MP) and individual members of the Work and Pensions Committee at the House of Commons highlighting the original investigation and the DWP’s failure to provide a fuller response.
Our investigation began after concerns were raised on our own forum and two other sites about this calculation website providing inaccurate, partial and out-of-date information. We also found it may have plagiarised material from other sites.
Within hours of trying to establish contact with Mr Westerbeek as part of our investigation into the website, benefitsupermarket.com was taken down.
We contacted the DWP and were provided with a brief statement stating that it was not an official Government website.
The DWP then asked us to submit any further questions we had regarding the website and Mr Westerbeek’s alleged involvement. But despite regular calls for answers to the submitted questions, the DWP has failed to offer any further statement.
The DWP was asked if Mr Westerbeek is actually behind benefitsupermarket.com. If so, what is the principle purpose of the site and Mr Westerbeek’s own reason for being involved?
We were concerned to know what has happened to the data that the site has collected and why Mr Westerbeek did not make clear his connection with the DWP.
We were also anxious to learn whether the DWP was aware of Mr Westerbeek’s activities and if the department had been passed any of the data collected by benefitsupermarket.com.
Benefitsupermarket.com said all information was provided anonymously. Although it did not ask for name or full address, it did require postcodes along with other information, such as the number of children and their ages.
In theory this could provide a jigsaw identification of a specific household. The site also collects sensitive personal information about vulnerable adults and elderly people, including problems with such things as mobility and getting out of bed.
The website gave no details about who runs it. Benefitsupermarket.com did claim to be independent of any government agency or department.
We have now resubmitted the questions to the DWP, but have still not received a response.
We will keep members updated on our progress.