‘Workfare’ or ‘Work for Your Benefit’ Schemes

This article aims to be a comprehensive list of ‘Workfare’ or ‘Work for Your Benefit’ Schemes (such as the Work Programme) including other compulsory schemes on JSA.  If you have any direct experience of any of these schemes, please get in contact. We are after any information you have to offer.


The information in this document applies to Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants, but some of the schemes listed below also affect Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, where mentioned.

Several very different schemes with different rules are often grouped together under the “Workfare” or “Work for your benefit” umbrellas; this can lead to confusion.  It is important to identify which scheme you are being required to do before taking further action, as your rights and requirements are different depending on which one you are on.

Often, work experience placements are not mandatory to accept, and once started must be for community benefit – you can only be sanctioned following gross misconduct.  All other programmes and schemes however may carry varying sanctions.


The following schemes are ‘work for your benefit’ (DWP’s own language) schemes:-

  • the Work Programme (including work experience placements)
    • What is it? – an employment scheme that “aims to get people claiming certain benefits into sustained work,” but it is essentially a for-profit Job Centre you are forced to attend where you can be forced to carry out workfare at the whim of the private provider.
    • Who is targeted? – normally claimants after 12 months on JSA (9 months if younger). Jobcentre reserve the right to refer you after 3 months, but this may be inappropriate – get advice if this applies to you.
    • Who runs it? – Various organisations in different parts of the UK run the Work Programme for Jobcentre Plus. A full list can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/local-work-programme-providers  In West Yorkshire, the two providers are Interserve and Ingeus.  They are paid according to their performance.  These companies then get claimants to work for businesses or charities, and a list can be found on the Boycott Workfare website – the full list is secret and DWP have refused Freedom of Information requests on the topic, because of the damage it is thought it would do to the companies involved.
    • Can you be sanctioned? Jobcentre Plus have legal grounds to sanction a claimant for failing without “good reason” to participate in the Work Programme.
    • Other sanction exemptions if on WORK EXPERIENCE: there are different rules if you are on a work experience placement arranged by a Work Programme provider. In these cases, the only type of behaviour on the placement for which Jobcentre Plus will sanction you is gross misconduct.
    • Boycott Workfare state that if you have not received a Mandatory Activity Notification in writing and under set criteria, then you will not be sanctioned for leaving. They also state that placements must be for “community benefit”, and if they are not, they are not mandatory as they can be arranged under the same guidelines as voluntary work experience – the provider must be able to explain to DWP what this benefit to the community is.  They also state that any activity to which you are mandated must be reasonable in your circumstances.  This advice is not based on your rights in law, but based on the guidance issued to Work Programme providers which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/work-programme-dwp-provider-guidance
    • Boycott Workfare advise you to take someone with you when you are referred onto the Work Programme. They advise that the only documents you are obliged to provide to a Work Programme provider is your referral letter and signing on book, and so they advise you not to sign any documents you are given as you are not legally required to do so.  They also advise keeping your CV safe to prevent harassment.  They also suggest attempting to conscientiously object, for example objecting to work placements with the Salvation Army if you are not a Christian.
    • If you are sent to a charity, look online at Boycott Workfare’s list. If they are claiming to have pulled out, get Boycott Workfare involved – we may be able to get them to cancel.  http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?page_id=16
    • The Work Programme can be postponed for 90 days if you have a job interview.
    • Other figures – Figures are not available for the number of mandatory work placements under this programme, but Ingeus (owned by city financiers Deloitte) force people to do six month long workfare placements. The Work Programme is expected to cost the taxpayer £5 billion pounds.
    • Mind, a mental health charity, are strongly critical of the success rates of claimants with mental health conditions that have been referred to the Work Programme https://www.politicshome.com/economy-and-work/articles/opinion/mind/work-programme%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98punitive-approach%E2%80%99-makes-mental-health
    • What happens after the Work Programme? – You are referred to the Help to Work programme/scheme, based on an exit report by the Work Programme provider. This is normally the “Mandatory Intervention Regime” which can require you to sign on daily or weekly, with lower level sanctions for failure to comply.  Alternatively, you could be referred for “Daily Work Search Reviews” in which you have daily meetings for up to 3 months.  These are still called ‘work for your benefit’ schemes.  The National Institute of Economic and Social Research reached a conclusion in 2103 that the effect of the Help to Work scheme was poor http://www.niesr.ac.uk/blog/help-work-pilots-success-failure-or-somewhere-between#.VgQt0N9Vikr
    • Legislation – the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Schemes) Regulations 2011, and the The Jobseekers Act 1995 (S17A) (as modified by the Welfare Reform Act 2009)
  • the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme
    • What is it? – The DWP say they aim this at claimants who need “extra support”, including “working under supervision.” It forces you to undertake work-related activity for up to 30 hours a week over a four-week period.  It is the most draconian of the schemes in terms of its intention and language, aiming these schemes at claimants “who have little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work.”
    • Who is targeted? – It appears that you can be referred to this at any point in your claim.
    • Can you be sanctioned? – If you fail without a “good reason” to “participate” in the Mandatory Work Activity Scheme, you will be sanctioned – it is a Higher Level Sanction.
    • Consider consulting your MP if you disagree with the principle that you require experience working under supervision. You could also complain to DWP using the complaints procedure.  The MWA scheme is not designed for you and do not be afraid of raising your head and objecting (although do continue to participate, due to the threat of higher level sanction).
    • Legislation – The Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, the Social Security Act 1998 and the Jobseekers Act 1995 (as modified by the Welfare Reform Act 2009).
  • Sector-Based Work Academies (including work experience placements)
    • What is it? – It lasts up to 6 weeks and consists of “pre-employment training, work experience”, and a “guaranteed job interview”. It is a workfare scheme, in which you are likely to be working for a business for no pay.
    • Who runs it? – Organisations funded by the Skills Funding Agency (usually a college or private training provider), often with partnerships from businesses such as Tesco, care homes, or other businesses.
    • Can you be sanctioned? – It is unclear. The rules may be similar to work experience placements – it is voluntary to agree to a course, but Jobcentre Plus may sanction you once started for failing without good reason to participate in a Sector-Based Work Academy.  Deciding whether or not to take part in them is voluntary, but once you accept a place, taking part is mandatory. If you are offered a job at the end and you refuse this, this may also be ground for sanction, but this is also unclear. However, DWP have at times publicly stated Sector-Based Work Academies to be voluntary schemes.
    • However, there are different rules if you are taking part in the work experience part of a Sector-Based Work Academy. In these cases, the only type of behaviour on the work experience placement for which Jobcentre Plus can sanction you is gross misconduct, in which case it is a Lower Level Sanction.



  • Skills Conditionality
    • What is it? – In England, Skills Conditionality is a requirement for some benefit claimants to “do activity to address a need for skills that will help them to move into work” if they think you “lack skills”. You normally have to go to three meetings with the National Careers Service, or a private company, and then a training programme begins. You must reach the end of your course. If this is set at more than 16 hours a week and for more than two weeks in a 52 week period, you will transfer from Jobseeker’s Allowance to a training allowance funded from Jobcentre Plus’s “Flexible Support Fund”. If Jobcentre Plus require you to take part in Skills Conditionality, you may be able to get help with travel and childcare costs from the Flexible Support Fund.
    • Who is targeted? – It is unclear, but likely to be longer-term JSA claimants.
    • Can you be sanctioned? – Taking part in Skills Conditionality is mandatory once Jobcentre Plus have decided to refer you to it. Jobcentre Plus may sanction you for failing without good reason to participate in Skills Conditionality. It applies to both JSA and ESA claimants.
    • Other information – Ofsted issued a negative report of this programme https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/skills-for-employment-assessing-training-and-support
  • The Derbyshire Mandatory Youth Activity Programme
    • What is it? – This is a “trailblazer” programme from Derbyshire Jobcentre Plus. The pilot is being delivered by TBG Learning under a payment by results model.  “DMYAP delivers eight weeks of full-time work based activity of 30 hours a week delivering community benefit and at least six hours a week of intensive job search support.”
    • Who is targeted? – It is aimed at 18-24 year olds approaching 5 months on JSA
    • Can you be sanctioned? – The DMYAP is a mandatory scheme and failure to participate without good cause will result in sanction.
  • the Traineeships scheme
    • What is it? – The Traineeships scheme is course which intends to send you to work experience placements, or tuition courses (usually English or Maths). Traineeships can last for up to six months, but are supposed to be around 15 weeks.
    • Who is targeted? –Claimants aged 16-24 are targeted.
    • Can you be sanctioned? – Jobcentre Plus can ask you to take part in Traineeships, but you can’t be sanctioned if you don’t want to participate. You can continue to receive jobseeker’s allowance while you attend. If you are offered a job during a traineeship, you may be sanctioned for failing to take it.
  • New Enterprise Allowance
    • What is it? – Initially created during Thatcher, it was revived in 2010 under the name “New” Enterprise Allowance. It is a scheme intended to help unemployed people start a business (but this usually means ‘self-employment’). If you qualify, a Jobcentre Plus ‘Work Coach’ puts you in contact with a ‘business mentor’ for 8 weeks. If you claim the New Enterprise Allowance you can be offered an unsecured loan worth up to £1,000 to help with the cost of starting up a business.
    • Who runs it? – The government has stated it will contract with other organisations to administer New Enterprise Allowance loans.
    • Who is targeted? – You can be referred or self-refer from day one of your claim
    • Can you be sanctioned? – Jobcentre Plus may sanction a claimant for failing to take part in it without ‘good reason’, and so we consider it to be a workfare scheme.  DWP state they will allow you to withdraw before the first meeting with the ‘mentoring provider’, or during the scheme, if you tell your work coach beforehand. See page 14 of this document
  • the Supervised Jobsearch Pilot Scheme
    • What is it? – You are required to spend up to 35 hours a week for up to 13 weeks in a supervised environment, for example, the premises of the organisation running the scheme. Various organisations will run the scheme for Jobcentre Plus.  You are called into interview.  The organisation running the scheme must give you a written notice within four working days of the interview. The notice must state what you must do to participate in the scheme and the consequences of failing to do so.
    • Who is targeted? – You are sent to this if you have either not yet taken part in the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus considers you are “not taking effective enough steps to get work”, or if you have already taken part in the Work Programme. It ihas overlaps with the “Daily Work Search Reviews” programme of the “Help to Work” scheme.
    • Can you be sanctioned? – This is a mandatory scheme and failure to participate without good cause will result in sanction, however the organisation running the scheme must give you a written notice within four working days of the interview. The notice must state what you must do to participate in the scheme and the consequences of failing to do so.  If they fail to do this – appeal!
    • This scheme has its own 2014 legislation. It is currently piloted in a few areas of England, including West Yorkshire.
  • the Work Skills Pilot Scheme.
    • What is it and who is targeted? – This is for people aged 18-21. It has its own legislation (The Jobseeker’s Allowance (18-21 Work Skills Pilot Scheme) Regulations 2014).  Notices must be given to you for example if you are to attend an assessment with the Scheme provider
    • Can you be sanctioned? – This is likely a mandatory scheme and failure to participate without good cause will likely result in sanction


There are also some ‘compulsory schemes’ for people on Jobseekers Allowance (which overlaps with the information above):

  • the Jobseeker’s agreement (and 13 week review)
  • Restart interviews
    • If you are out of work after 26 weeks, you will be asked to attend a Restart interview with a Jobcentre Plus adviser. Attendance is compulsory and failure to attend could result in sanction.
  • The Work Experience programme (discussed in the Work Programme and Sector-Based Work Academies sections above).
    • What is it? – an employment programme. It normally lasts for between two and eight weeks, for 25 to 30 hours a week, but can be extended by up to four weeks if the hosting organisation “offers to take the young person on under an apprenticeship arrangement”.
    • Who is targeted? – JSA claimants who are aged 16 to 24 years before they start the programme
    • Can you be sanctioned? – Accepting a placement on the Work Experience programme is voluntary. However, once you have accepted a Work Experience placement, taking part in the programme becomes mandatory. Jobcentre Plus may therefore sanction you if you lose your place on the Work Experience Programme because of gross misconduct. Government guidance says Jobcentre Plus will not sanction you for any other reason.
    • Does it work? – DWP produced their own statistics in Nov 2011 which stated that after 13 weeks on the programme, 50% of claimants were no longer claiming. Analysis shows that 13 weeks is a lengthy period for JSA claimants and a similar proportion find work in this time when not on the programme (60% leave within 3 months, and this is higher for younger claimants).  Furthermore, the 50% statistic will include claimants who have left the programme for reasons other than finding a job https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/223210/work_experience_participant_outcomes.pdf
  • Universal Jobsmatch
    • What is it? – This is a government website where you, among other things, upload your CV.
    • Can you be sanctioned? – Jobcentre Plus can use a jobseeker’s direction to require you to use Universal Jobmatch. If you refuse or fail without a good reason to use Universal Jobmatch, Jobcentre Plus may sanction you.
    • Boycott Workfare always suggest not giving any copies of your CV to anyone, and if you are told to do so, to ask them to put the request in writing stating what benefit sanctions will apply if you refuse.


Miscellaneous schemes:

  • Access to Work Programme
    • This is run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to help disabled people overcome work-related obstacles resulting from their disability. It aims to assist a disabled person or employer to cover disability-related costs in relation to employment (e.g. aids, adaptations, personal readers, sign language interpreters, etc).  It is engaged where you have a job or a prospective job, or self-employment.  The employer becomes the owner of any equipment.  You have the right to have any decision reviewed; requests should be put in writing to the Access to Work regional manager.


Misconduct on a work experience scheme

There is no complete list of what counts as gross misconduct during the following types of work experience: the Work Experience programme, a work experience placement on the Work Programme, or a work experience placement in a Sector-Based Work Academy.

However, government guidance says gross misconduct is conduct that is so serious that only one instance of it will warrant the employer ending the claimant’s work experience placement. Government guidance says the following are examples of gross misconduct:-

  • dishonesty or theft from the employer or co-workers
  • fighting with or assault on another person in the workplace
  • abusive behaviour towards co-workers or customers
  • deliberately damaging the employer’s property
  • a serious act of insubordination towards a person in a position of authority in the workplace
  • endangering safety by some deliberate act or omission
  • serious incapability through the use of alcohol or illegal drugs.

If you have been sanctioned for gross misconduct and your behaviour did not match the spirit of the behaviours above, APPEAL!  We could assist you and want to hear from you, so get in contact!

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Information last updated April 2016