Government employment schemes

If you’re claiming benefits and have been asked to attend a government employment scheme it's essential you turn up. You can lose your benefit if you don’t. Here’s what you need to know.

Girl sat in office at a computer

Some government employment schemes are compulsory

Compulsory schemes

Some government employment schemes are compulsory – if you don’t take part you could lose your benefits for a period of time, called a sanction. Your money could also be cut if you agree to a scheme but don’t complete it.

It’s really important to establish whether a scheme that you’re offered is voluntary or compulsory, so you don’t end up being sanctioned.

If you do get sanctioned and you disagree with the decision, you can challenge the decision. You can still challenge a sanction decision even if you have missed the month deadline.

The Work Programme

The best-known government employment scheme was the Work Programme. The aim of the Work Programme was to prepare you for finding and staying in a job. The Work Programme stopped taking new participants on 1 April 2017. If you’re already taking part, you can continue to do so for up to 2 years from the date you joined. After two years on the scheme you are required to attend an interview with Jobcentre Plus to help you plan, prepare and find work.

Complaints against the Work Programme

The Work Programme is run by different organisations on behalf of Jobcentre Plus. These organisations are paid by results, which has been an issue of contention.

If you feel strongly that what you’ve been asked to do is not going to help you get a long-term job, don’t be afraid to complain. The organisation running your programme should have a complaints procedure. If you can’t work out the complaint between you, then you can refer your complaint to the Independent Case Examiner.


Other ‘Work for your benefit’ schemes

There are a variety of other schemes with different names that will all require you to work for benefit. These are:

  • New Enterprise Allowance
  • Sector-based Work Academies
  • Skills Conditionality in England
  • Traineeships

As with other compulsory schemes, you can lose your benefit if you don’t take part, or if you get kicked off the scheme.

The Work Experience Programme

If you are on JSA and aged 16-24, you can get a work experience opportunity through Jobcentre Plus.

Work experience usually lasts between 2 and 8 weeks, and you’ll typically be asked to work between 25 and 30 hours per week. You may also get help with travel and childcare to attend work experience.

You can decide whether or not you want to take part in the Work Experience Programme, so that part is voluntary. However, once you’ve accepted a place on the scheme it becomes compulsory, so you need to make sure that you keep attending and don’t get kicked off the course, otherwise you could be sanctioned.

Voluntary schemes

Some government schemes are voluntary, and you can choose to join if you think it would be helpful to you.

However, if your personal adviser feels you’ll benefit from one, they can give you a ‘Jobseeker’s Direction’, which makes attendance compulsory. So again, you can lose your benefit if you don’t take part (there’s a pattern here!).

There are a variety of different voluntary schemes and training programmes, depending on your circumstances and where you live.

Work clubs

A lot of areas have work clubs that will help you to find work by doing things like CV writing or preparing for job interviews.

Work trials

Work trials let you try out a new job while still receiving benefits. And they give a potential employer a chance to double-check you’re suitable. Work trials usually only last a few days.

If, at any point, either you or the employer doesn’t think it’s working, you can discontinue the trial without affecting your benefits. If you’re offered the job at the end of the trial but decide you don’t want it, this also won’t affect your benefits.

Training for work in Scotland

If you live in Scotland and you’re 18 or over you can ask Jobcentre plus about Training for work in Scotland. This scheme aims to give the long-term (over 13 weeks) unemployed vocational training in a specific industry that fits with likely employers in your area.

Community jobs Scotland (CJS)

Community Jobs Scotland helps 16-24 year olds to get a paid job in the voluntary sector. You need to have been unemployed for at least six months to be considered. All CJS jobs must be at least 25 hours a week and last for 26 weeks, or 39 weeks if you’re 16 to 17. You’ll be paid the minimum wage or above.

Jobs Growth Wales

This Welsh government Programme gives ‘job ready’ 16-24 year olds a job opportunity for a minimum of six months. To be eligible, you need to not be in other education, employment or training.

You’ll be paid at least National Minimum Wage and work for at least 25 hours a week. You’d be an employee, and so would be paid rather than receiving benefits. As this counts as a job, if you refuse to take part or leave (or get sacked) part way through and you want to claim JSA, then you might well be sanctioned for 13 weeks.

You can find out more information from the Careers Wales website.

Steps 2 Success in Northern Ireland

Anyone over 18, unemployed, or working less than 16 hours a week, is eligible for the Steps 2 Success programme to help you back into work. It’s compulsory if you’ve been on JSA for 9 months and are under 25.

Where can I go for help with work schemes?

Getting benefits is often a frustrating process. But there are lots of places you can go for help:

  • Citizen’s Advice knows about the benefits system and can help you understand your rights. You can visit your local bureau to get face-to-face advice and support. You must remember to bring along details of your benefits and general financial situation.
  • You can find more information on how Back to Work schemes work from
  • You can find out how to challenge a decision about your benefit from our page on Benefits Appeals.

Unfortunately we are unable to offer benefits advice here at The Mix.

Next Steps

  • Use the Turn2Us calculator to work out what benefits and grants you're entitled to, or call their helpline on 0808 802 2000
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Danny Sherwood and David Samson

Updated on 30-Nov-2017