Training course scam net could include our region

September 19, 2015

VOCATIONAL training promoters have been going door-to-door offering courses to vulnerable people in Warrnambool and Ballarat, leaving them deep in debt, and they may have also targeted Hamilton and Coleraine.

The Victorian Department of Education and Training says some training colleges are engaged in an “abuse” of a program that allows people to pay for their education with a Federal Government loan.

The Age newspaper this week published an investigation into training ‘brokers’ and door-to-door salesmen that were allegedly targeting disadvantaged people in country Victoria with promises of a better life through vocational courses.

Huge commissions are being offered to salesmen because the training college gets thousands of dollars in government-supplied fees upfront when a ‘student’ signs up.

A broker for a Melbourne-based training college allegedly told salesmen that they should target Housing Commission flats and other areas where residents would have no hope of ever repaying their debt the government under the FEE-HELP scheme.

Due to the huge profit margins for a successful sign-up, salesmen are offering ‘free’ laptops or iPad tablet computers to lure people into the deal.

This is despite a Federal Government ban on sign-up gifts that came into effect earlier this year.

Some new ‘students’ are being left with debts of up to $18,000 for training courses that they will have great difficulty in completing.

A Victorian Department of Education spokeswoman said “we are aware of activities where brokers have marketed VET FEE-HELP loans for training courses to people in Warrnambool”.

“The Department is aware of similar incidents in Ballarat but not in any other western Victorian communities. We have had complaints also in other regional communities over the past 12 months.

“These complaints have been referred to the national regulator, ASQA, and to the Federal Government.

“The Victorian Government has raised repeated concerns with the Federal Government about abuse of VET FEE-HELP loans and marketing practices by some providers.”

A couple from Euroa, who both have intellectual disabilities and struggle with reading and writing, told The Age that they were enrolled in vocational courses by a door-to-door salesman.

They claim the salesman coached them through the pre-enrolment literacy and numeracy tests.

a 'Scam Alert' uploaded to Wannon MP Dan Tehan's website on September 10
a ‘Scam Alert’ uploaded to Wannon MP Dan Tehan’s website on September 10

There is some evidence to suggest that the training course salesmen have targeted areas in south-west and western Victoria beyond the regional population centres.

One of The Spectator’s Facebook followers from Hamilton said she was targeted by a similar training course scam except that it took place over the phone.

On September 10 Wannon MP Dan Tehan posted a ‘Scam Alert’ on his website, writing that he had been “advised of a scam involving VET Fee Help Courses, operating particularly in the Coleraine area”.

“I have heard from a number of residents in Wannon that individuals are driving door to door taking personal information from people as part of a fake enrolment process under the guise of getting a free laptop. Personal information they are seeking includes your Driver’s Licence, Medicare card and your Tax File Number.

“If you encounter anyone who claims to be from a VET FEE HELP Course or Education provider, please do not provide them with any of your personal information or money. I would also encourage you to report any contact with the offenders to your local police.”

The Spectator asked Mr Tehan if this website post was connected to alleged rorts investigated by The Age.

Mr Tehan did not answer directly but highlighted previous federal regulation of training course salesmen and said greater penalties and restrictions would come into force next year.

“Since we came to government we have been working to ensure the system operates with greater security for students and less opportunity for manipulation,” Mr Tehan said.

“This has included the banning of inducements, banning course withdrawal fees, banning misleading statements around free courses, and providing greater compliance structures that include penalties for brokers and providers.

“In addition to the restrictions already being put in place, we will be banning the levying of the full debt load for courses in one hit and have the power to remit debt and recoup costs from providers with severe penalties from January 1, 2016.”

Hamilton Police Sergeant Paul Stanhope told The Spectator that no complaints had been received in the last two months concerning door-to-door training salesmen.

Concern over portable classrooms proposal

September 19, 2015

LAKE Bolac P-12 College could lose two of its portable classrooms as the State Government evaluates dozens of rural schools to help meet demand from growing populations in outer Melbourne.

Principal George Porter told The Spectator that parents had “strong concerns” that removing the classrooms, which have now been incorporated into a larger permanent complex, would “change the school’s culture”.

“The Education Department is looking at whole state and we have been identified as having two portable classrooms. They have sent someone to evaluate them,” Mr Porter said.

“We were told we are on a list of schools that have classrooms in excess of the school’s needs but we have not been notified if they will be removed.”

The Education Department has advised principals across Victoria that they may have to contribute to a plan to use 175 existing classrooms and 125 new classrooms to help provide space for more than 14,000 new students.

Education Minister James Merlino has pledged to minimise disruption and make any changes “fair for all”.

The two classrooms at Lake Bolac that could be uprooted and put on a truck are currently used for primary school classes.

The school has about 90 students, 70 of which are in the primary school, and removing the classrooms could see students sent across to classrooms and toilets designed for older children.

Lake Bolac has also combined its portable classrooms with other permanent buildings to create an enclosed space that includes an assembly hall and a kitchen that was recently refurbished by parents.

Shadow education minister Nick Wakeling said parents and students at Lake Bolac P-12 College were “rightly concerned” about the proposal.

“This move by the Andrews Government will halve the number of primary school buildings on the site,” he said.

“It is essential that any proposed removal of relocatable classrooms consider not just student numbers, but also the impact of removing multiple classrooms in a short period of time will have on the ability of the school to continue to deliver high quality education.

“(Premier) Daniel Andrews needs to ensure that teachers and students are not inconvenienced and that student education is not jeopardised.”

Western Victoria Labor MP Gayle Tierney said the Education Department “will work with the school to minimise disruption, assist with the transition and where possible it moves relocatable classrooms outside of term time”.

Ms Tierney said the “Relocatable Building Program utilises student enrolment data to balance and prioritise the classroom needs of more than 1500 government schools”.

“Relocatable classrooms are transferred from schools which
have more classrooms than required to schools without the classroom capacity to meet growth in student enrolments.

“Unprecedented growth in enrolments across the state and the former Coalition government’s neglect of Victorian schools has put significant pressure on the Department’s relocatable asset base.

“The previous Coalition government failed Victorian students by halving the investment in school infrastructure throughout Victoria.

When the capital budget is cut by more than half, it has a devastating impact on schools and we are now dealing with the fallout from these savage cuts.”