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Government employment schemes

Help finding work

This information describes the main government employment schemes. Most schemes are provided through Jobcentre Plus offices, where you can get more details. Some employment schemes are compulsory for people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, while others are voluntary. You can also find information here about employment schemes for the self-employed, training schemes, and other types of help on offer.

Help for disabled people

Every Jobcentre Plus office has a disability employment adviser (DEA). They can give you specialist advice if you're disabled. They also advise employers. They can advise you on finding work, keeping a job and getting practical help through the Access to Work scheme and supported employment.

Find out more about the Access to Work scheme on the Disability Rights UK website.

Avoiding benefit sanctions

If you're claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, you must take part in certain schemes if your personal adviser asks you to.

You might get a benefit sanction if you refuse to take part in a scheme, or leave one before finishing it. A sanction means Jobcentre Plus will stop or reduce your Jobseeker's Allowance for a time.

You might be able to avoid getting a sanction if you had a good reason for whatever caused it. Tell Jobcentre Plus your reason as soon as you can, ideally within 5 days.

If Jobcentre Plus gives you a sanction, you may be able to challenge their decision.

For more information about sanctions, and how to challenge them, see Benefits for people looking for work.

Compulsory schemes

You've been out of work for 13 weeks

If you haven't found work after 13 weeks, your personal adviser will review the situation with you. This might not happen on your usual attendance day. Coming to this interview is compulsory.

As a result of this interview, you may:

  • be put in touch with local employers
  • need to widen the range of jobs you will look for
  • be issued with a direction aimed at improving your chance of finding work
  • be referred to a scheme or programme

Your benefit could be stopped or cut if you don’t come to this meeting or if you don’t follow the steps your personal adviser gives you.

If your benefit is stopped or cut, tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision.  

You've been out of work for 26 weeks

If you're still out of work after 26 weeks, you will be asked to attend a 'restart interview' with a Jobcentre Plus personal adviser. This is compulsory, and your benefit could be stopped or cut if you don't go. 

If your benefit is stopped or cut, tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision.  

The Work Experience programme

The Work Experience programme is for people aged 16 to 24, though it can sometimes take people who are older. It aims to give you experience of a working environment. It normally lasts for 2 to 8 weeks.

If you're claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and take part in the programme, you will still get Jobseeker's Allowance and must continue to look for work as normal.

Joining the Work Experience programme is voluntary. However, once you accept a place it becomes compulsory. This means if you are 18 or over and you lose your place because of gross misconduct, your Jobseeker's Allowance can be stopped.

If your benefit is stopped or cut, tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision.

The Help to Work Scheme

If you finish the Work Programme but you're still unemployed and claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, you move on to the Help to Work scheme. On this you'll do one of 3 activities:

  • go to the jobcentre every day to discuss your progress and talk about activities that could improve your skills
  • take up a Community Work Placement
  • accept intensive support from Jobcentre Plus. This means Jobcentre Plus will spend more time with you looking at how to you can get back into work. It may involve training schemes, local work experience or funding to help with travel costs or clothes for a job interview

You'll talk to Jobcentre Plus about what's making it hard to find work. Based on that, they'll decide which of these activities are right for you. They'll also take into account a report from your Work Programme provider.

The Help to Work Scheme is compulsory, so if you don't take part in it your benefit could be stopped or cut

If your benefit is stopped or cut, tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision. 

'Work for your benefit' schemes

There are several 'work for your benefit' schemes:

Mandatory Work Activity

Mandatory Work Activity is a 'work for your benefit' scheme for people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance who are aged 18 or over. It aims to improve your chances of getting work by giving you extra support in looking for jobs and gaining work-related skills. Jobcentre Plus can decide whether you must take part.

The scheme is intended to provide work or work-related activity for up to 30 hours a week over 4 weeks. To be on the scheme, you have to be available for and actively looking for work, and you have to enter into a jobseeker's agreement.

Your benefit could be stopped or cut if you're asked to go on Mandatory Work Activity but you don't take part. 

If your benefit is stopped or cut, tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision. 

The Work Programme

The Work Programme aims to get you into sustained work if you're claiming certain benefits. There are several schemes around the UK run by different organisations for Jobcentre Plus. The organisations are paid by their results. The more people they help to find work, the more they are paid.

Organisations running the Work Programme have to offer a minimum level of service. However, they can set the rules of their schemes based on local economic and employment conditions. This means the rules for qualifying to take part in the Work Programme can vary from area to area.

Who has to take part in the Work Programme

You will have to take part in the Work Programme if:

  • you are aged 18-24 and have claimed Jobseeker's Allowance for 9 months
  • you are aged 25 or over and have claimed Jobseeker's Allowance for 12 months
  • you are seriously disadvantaged in the labour market, for example because a disability has made it hard to find work. When you qualify and whether you can choose to take part depend on where you live and what your circumstances are
  • you have recently claimed Incapacity Benefit, after claiming Jobseeker's Allowance for 3 months
  • you are claiming income-related Employment and Support Allowance, are in the work-related activity group, and are expected to be fit for work within 12 months.

Who can choose to take part in the Work Programme

You can volunteer to take part in the Work Programme at any time if:

  • you are claiming Employment and Support Allowance
  • you get Pension Credit
  • in England, you get Income Support or Incapacity Benefit

Benefit sanctions for the Work Programme

If you don't take part

Your benefit could be stopped or cut if you're asked to go on the Work Programme but you don't take part. 

If your benefit is stopped or cut, tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision. 

If you're guilty of gross misconduct

If you are on a work experience placement on the Work Programme, your benefit can only be stopped or cut if you are guilty of gross misconduct.

If your benefit is stopped or cut, tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision.

Complaints about the Work Programme

The organisation that runs the Work Programme must have a complaints procedure and tell you what it is. If you make a complaint and the organisation can't sort it out, you can refer your complaint to the Independent Case Examiner. They deal with unresolved complaints on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Sector-Based Work Academies

Sector-Based Work Academies are a government initiative to help you get work. They last for up to 6 weeks and normally consist of:

  • pre-employment training
  • a work experience placement
  • a guaranteed job interview
  • in some cases, the chance to make progress towards a qualification

Various employers, colleges and training providers in different parts of the UK run Sector-Based Work Academies for Jobcentre Plus. This means the activities they involve vary from area to area and according to your circumstances.

Who takes part in Sector-Based Work Academies

You can take part in a Sector-Based Work Academy if you're 18 or over and claiming Jobseeker's Allowance. You can also take part if you're claiming Employment and Support Allowance and you're in the work-related activity group. 

Benefit sanctions for Sector-Based Work Academies

If you don't take part

Deciding whether or not to join the academy is voluntary, but once you accept a place, taking part is compulsory. This means your benefit could be stopped or cut if you don't take part in a Sector-Based Work Academy once you’ve accepted a place.

If your benefit is stopped or cut, tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision.

If you're guilty of gross misconduct

If you are on a work experience placement in a Sector-Based Work Academy, your benefit can only be stopped or cut if you are guilty of gross misconduct.

If your benefit is stopped or cut, tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision.

Community Work Placements

Community Work Placements aim to help you get and keep work by enhancing your CV, skills and motivation. You might go on one of these placements if you're claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and have already been on the Work Programme. The programme runs till October 2016, but no one will be referred to it after March 2016. 

Various different organisations run Community Work Placements for Jobcentre Plus. Each placement involves work for the benefit of the community.

An organisation running the scheme will have up to 30 weeks to work with you from when Jobcentre Plus refers you to them. You'll spend up to 26 of these 30 weeks on a work placement, for 30 hours a week.

If you don't take part 

Your benefit could be stopped or cut if you refuse to do a Community Work Placement.

If your benefit is stopped or cut, you should tell Jobcentre Plus if you have a good reason for what happened. Tell them as soon as you can - ideally within 5 days. You may also be able to challenge the decision.

Voluntary schemes

Some government schemes are voluntary and you can ask your personal adviser for advice on joining one.

In some cases you will have to go on a scheme that's normally voluntary. This could happen if your personal adviser feels you'll benefit from going. In these cases, you will be given a jobseeker’s direction. This means you'll have to take part in the scheme or risk having your benefit stopped or cut

Employability Fund

In Scotland, the Employability Fund provides training for unemployed people. You can find out more from the Skills Development Scotland website or by telephoning 0800 917 8000.

Community Jobs Scotland

Community Jobs Scotland (CJS) is a Scottish government scheme which helps 16-24 year olds get a paid job in the voluntary sector. You need to have been unemployed for at least 6 months to be considered. If you are over 25, you can apply if you live in a designated area of high unemployment and have been unemployed for at least 6 months. All CJS jobs must be for at least 25 hours a week and last for at least 26 weeks, or 39 weeks if you're 16 to 17. All jobs will pay at least the national minimum wage.

Your Jobcentre Plus adviser would need to refer you to this scheme if you're over 18. If you're 16 or 17, you'll need to contact a Skills Development Scotland adviser for information and referral to CJS.

For more information about this scheme, go to the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations website.

Work clubs

Many areas have work clubs. A work club can help you look for work and get a job, for example, by helping you write a CV or prepare for a job interview. 

Work trials

If you've been offered a job, a work trial lets you try it out while still getting benefits. It also lets the employer see how you get on before deciding whether to take you on permanently. Most work trials only last for a few days.

For a work trial to take place:

  • you must be eligible (see below) and willing to take part
  • your Jobcentre Plus adviser must agree that the trial is appropriate
  • the job must be for over 16 hours per week and must be expected to last at least 3 months.

You will be eligible for a work trial if you are 18 or over and you get any of these benefits:

  • Jobseeker's Allowance for 6 months or more
  • Income Support
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Severe Disability Allowance
  • Carer's Allowance
  • Bereavement Benefit
  • Pension Credit

Some other unemployed people are also eligible for a work trial, so if you want to apply, ask your Jobcentre Adviser about this.

You or the employer can stop the trial at any time. Your benefit won't suffer if this happens.

On a work trial, you will get your usual benefit and will also be able to claim travel expenses.

The employer has to consider you for permanent employment if the work trial shows that you're suitable. If you are offered a job at the end of the work trial but decide not to accept it, you won't suffer a benefit penalty. If you aren't offered a job, Jobcentre Plus will ask the employer and you for feedback. Your personal adviser can use this feedback when thinking about how you should continue your search for work.

Help setting up in self-employment

Jobcentre Plus offices sometimes advertise details of self-employment possibilities for unemployed people, including contract work and commission-only vacancies. They may also be able to give you information on starting a small business or arranging a franchise. Speak to your personal adviser to find out more.

New Enterprise Allowance

If you are unemployed, you may be able to claim New Enterprise Allowance to help you start a business. You must be claiming an eligible benefit, such as Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or Income Support.

You can get help with starting up in business from the GOV.UK website.

Business Gateway can give you support if you’re unemployed and want to start your own business. You can call its helpline on 0300 0134753 or email info@bgateway.com.

If you're aged between 18 and 30 and have a business idea, the Prince's Trust may be able to help with advice and funding.

For general advice about starting up in self-employment, see Self-employment: checklist.

Training schemes

Apprenticeship programmes

Apprenticeships can help you learn new skills and gain qualifications while working.

Read more about apprenticeship programmes in Scotland from Skills Development Scotland, or phone their helpline on 0800 917 8000.

Other help

Other support is available if you're unemployed and looking for work, or if you've found work but need help starting. 

My World of Work

In Scotland, the Skills Development Scotland My World of Work website has advice, tools and information on training schemes, choosing a career, learning, applying for jobs, starting your own business, and changing careers.

Universal Jobmatch

Universal Jobmatch is a government website to help people find jobs. You can use it to:

  • search for jobs
  • create and upload your CV
  • get email alerts about jobs
  • apply for jobs online
  • keep a record of your job search activity

To use some of the services, you will need to register for a government gateway account.

Employment on Trial

Under the Employment on Trial scheme you can try out a job without risking losing benefit if you leave. You'll need to leave the job voluntarily, not lose it because of your misconduct. If you refuse to take a suitable job, your Jobseeker’s Allowance may be affected.

Your Jobseeker’s Allowance won't be affected if:

  • you had done no work at all for at least 13 weeks immediately before you started employment (you don't need to have claimed benefit) and weren't in full-time education
  • you worked at least 16 hours a week in the job concerned
  • you'd started your 5th week of work, but hadn't yet been there 12 weeks (not counting days of sickness, holidays, jury service, self-employment and any weeks when you weren't working)

You won't qualify for Employment on Trial, even if signing on as unemployed, if you worked part-time for any of the days in the 13-week unemployment period. There are exemptions for work done for the emergency services.

The following count towards the 13-week qualifying period:

  • vocational training, such as Work Based Learning for Adults
  • Work Based Training for Young People, as long as you were a trainee and not an employee
  • time when you received an Employment Rehabilitation Allowance
  • part-time study or education
  • periods of sickness when you got statutory sick pay, Incapacity Benefit or Statutory Maternity Pay.

If you want to return to or claim benefits after Employment on Trial, check that you satisfy all the conditions before you leave the job.

Flexible Support Fund

If you are a customer of Jobcentre Plus, you may be able to get a payment from the Flexible Support Fund to cover any expenses you run up while taking up work or training. However, it's up to your local Jobcentre Plus to decide whether it will meet these costs.

To find out what help you're likely to get, ask your Jobcentre Plus personal adviser.

University for Industry (UFI)

UFI promotes training among businesses and individuals in sectors where there is a shortage of skills. If you're 19 or older and have low literacy or numeracy it can get you into training to improve those skills.

Businesses which join the UFI corporate membership scheme get financial help from the UFI so that they can train their staff. UFI won't train you directly, but it will point you to available training and encourage the creation of new training.

If you're interested in accessing training through the UFI, contact your local Jobcentre Plus office or the learndirect website.

Individual Learning Accounts Scotland

Individual Learning Accounts Scotland (ILA Scotland) is a Scottish government scheme for people aged 16 or over. It can help you if you live in Scotland, aren't currently in education or training, and haven't got a degree or postgraduate qualification. If you earn £22,000 a year or less or are on benefits, you can apply for an ILA account that will give you up to £200 a year towards courses from learning providers throughout Scotland.

You can get more information about ILA Scotland from the Skills Development Scotland website or on freephone 0800 917 8000.

GOV.UK

The government website, GOV.UK, has lots of information on finding a job.

Work in Europe

Job vacancies and information on living and working conditions across Europe are available on the EURES website.

EURES stands for the European Employment Services organisation.

Other financial help

You may be entitled to other financial help as a result of starting work and coming off benefits. For example:

  • extended payment of Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction
  • mortgage interest run-on payments, if you've been getting certain means-tested benefits
  • Working Tax Credit

For more information on any of these you should consult an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau, including those that can give advice by email.